The St. Petersburg City Council today should reject a plan to ask voters a loaded question about universal curbside recycling. Then the council should vote to add the service, because it's past time for the City Beautiful to move into the 21st century when it comes to waste disposal.
St. Petersburg remains the only major Florida city not to offer routine curbside recycling and has debated the issue for years. Last week, city attorney John Wolfe proposed placing a straw poll on the Aug. 27 ballot asking voters if they want universal curbside recycling. But the wording appears designed for the question to fail. The proposed ballot language twice notes the cost of adding universal curbside recycling would be about $3 per household per month — a figure provided by city staff that is based on adding the service a la carte, not a systemic re-examination of how recycling might be better integrated into the city's entire waste management system.
A recent analysis underwritten by the League of Women Voters of the St. Petersburg Area shows just how significant City Hall's recalcitrance has been. Cities in Pinellas County that have universal curbside recycling saw an average 260 pounds of waste per household diverted from disposal in 2011. But St. Petersburg and Dunedin, which had only subscription-based curbside recycling and city drop-off sites, diverted just 145 pounds per household. (Dunedin has since implemented universal recycling.) The clear message: Make recycling easier, and participation increases.
St. Petersburg has long boasted that it was the first in Florida to be designated a "Green City" by the Florida Green Building Coalition for its embrace of environmental initiatives such as reclaimed water and land preservation. But such a label means little amid such a glaring omission. Recycling is a proven method to collect valued commodities for a higher use, prolong the life of landfills and protect natural resources. It's also the policy of a state where the Republican-led Legislature has voted twice since 2008 to call for communities to recycle at least 75 percent of their solid waste by 2020. St. Petersburg has wasted enough time. The City Council should lead, not hide behind a straw poll.