They have become known as the "recycling minute'' — Pasco Commissioner Henry Wilson's biweekly messages to the rest of the board touting the benefits of recycling. Therein lies the problem. The commission only thinks about recycling for two minutes each month.
Kudos to Wilson for trying to continue the public debate, but the commission as a whole remains uncommitted to changing its curbside recycling program. That is unfortunate. The lack of political will to mandate recycling and to design franchise areas for garbage collection makes for a more costly and inefficient system.
Consider the experience in Hernando County where last year Seaside Sanitation of Hudson was the lowest of eight bidders to provide service. There, residents now receive two garbage pickups a week, weekly recycling pickups and twice monthly disposal of yard waste. Monthly bills range from $6.14 to $7.74 depending on location.
Contrast that to the current setup in Pasco where eight private haulers jockey for market share charging $12.44 monthly for twice-a-week garbage service and pickup of blue-bag recycling every other week. Likewise, customers in Hillsborough, which also has franchised trash hauling, pay 17 percent less than the rates charged in Pasco.
The potential savings alone should motivate commissioners to stop acquiescing to hauler lobbying and to start thinking of their constituents' pocketbooks.
It is a familiar debate. Two years ago, commissioners had agreed to a staff pitch to seek franchise contracts for trash collection as a way to bolster recycling, but backtracked two months later. It was a repeat of 2008 when a commission majority also endorsed franchising and mandatory recycling, but later retreated amid lobbying from haulers advocating the status quo.
The status quo is broken. Pasco's public programs — curbside residential blue bags and drop-off sites — accounted for just 10,100 tons of recycled material in 2010, or just 6.4 percent of all materials recycled in the county. Most of recycling is processed by private companies.
Similarly, only 4 percent of the trash collected from single-family homes is recycled. Other nearby counties, with franchised trash hauling, report 30 to 41 percent recycling rates from single-family homes.
The blue bag residential recycling program is 20 years old. A commission that has modernized its government operations — from improved customer service to long-term planning tied to market areas and transit corridors — should be embarrassed about its inability and unwillingness to do likewise for trash collection and recycling.