Pinellas County commissioners have been talking about creating a countywide curbside recycling program since at least 2005. There has been too much talk and not enough action. Thanks to their indecisiveness and dillydallying, Florida's most densely populated county still lacks a comprehensive curbside program and now may have to wait until 2013 to get one.
Pinellas cities as small as Oldsmar and Madeira Beach and as large as Largo and Clearwater have been able to provide at least fee-based curbside recycling for their residents, but the county just can't get it done. Residents in unincorporated Pinellas and the county's largest city, St. Petersburg, must take recyclables to a dropoff center or hire a private contractor.
Even Florida's conservative-leaning Legislature seems more progressive than the county when it comes to recycling. Legislators passed a bill this year that Gov. Charlie Crist is expected to sign calling for communities to recycle at least 75 percent of their solid waste stream by 2020. Pinellas achieves only 30 percent.
As far back as early 2007, county commissioners approved a standalone, countywide curbside recycling program, even deciding to pay the cost of it by using dollars that can legally be spent only for solid waste projects. But one delay followed another, and in 2009 commissioners got sidetracked by a different idea: creating a garbage collection franchise for unincorporated areas, where residents now contract with private haulers for their garbage pickup.
Last week commissioners talked again and seemed no closer to consensus on either franchised garbage pickup in unincorporated areas or countywide recycling. A few commissioners are frustrated because they want recycling now, but they are a minority. Others seem either uninterested, hesitant to make a decision before the fall election or insistent that recycling and franchised garbage pickup must be bound together. That could delay recycling until 2013, because state law forces local governments to give three years' notice before starting a new franchise.
With the commission still in delay mode, County Administrator Bob LaSala on Tuesday offered a game-changing suggestion that brings recycling back to the forefront, where it belongs. He and his staff will spend the rest of this year working up a plan for a more progressive recycling program that would include not only single-family residential curbside pickup, but collection of recyclables from commercial, industrial and multi-family residential properties, and recycling of construction debris and yard waste.
Such a program would go a long way toward helping the county meet the state's 75 percent goal, could greatly extend the life of the county landfill, and perhaps most important to fiscal conservatives on the commission, earn the county a lot more revenue from the sale of recyclables. Such information should help make the case that countywide recycling needs to come sooner, not later.
Recycling is essential to a healthy environment and is supported by the public, especially when it is convenient to do. Pinellas needs a comprehensive, countywide recycling program, and long before 2013.