Pinellas County commissioners need to agree Tuesday to get in step with the rest of Florida and commit to providing recycling in the county's unincorporated areas. And they should give serious consideration to the painstaking and thoughtful plan put together by County Administrator Bob LaSala and his staff. Five years have been spent debating this issue. It's past time for action.
This week, the commission decided unexpectedly that it would not use a Tuesday workshop to discuss the specific merits of LaSala's plan for implementing a more coherent trash hauling and recycling program to serve 300,000 residents in the unincorporated areas of Pinellas County. The decision is clearly the result of a changing County Commission, where three members have been added since the commission in 2008 decided to pursue curbside recycling. But the environmental issues associated with the county burning some garbage and sending the rest to landfills haven't changed.
Now that St. Petersburg has implemented a voluntary curbside recycling program, unincorporated Pinellas County remains the only large, heavily populated area in the state to rely on a hodgepodge of individual curbside refuse hauling and recycling services that can differ from subdivision to subdivision, neighborhood to neighborhood, even street to street.
LaSala has proposed a more streamlined, consolidated county-administered system that would combine collection of trash and recycling using subcontracted haulers. While estimates vary, the annual operating costs could run anywhere from $7.5 million to $10 million, with residents paying between $15 and $20 monthly to have their garbage and recycling picked up. A pilot program in the Lealman area has worked efficiently, cutting garbage collection costs in half. And there is $100 million in reserve in the county's waste management fund to help cover costs.
But various haulers, fearful of losing business, worry about a potential loss of revenue. Some communities that negotiated bulk rate contracts with haulers don't want to negotiate another deal with a potentially new trash/recycling collector. And some county commissioners have balked at the costs of the plan.
Less appreciated, however, is that doing nothing is not an acceptable option. A state law mandates communities recycle at least 75 percent of their solid waste by 2020. Pinellas' rate was 34 percent in 2008, suggesting that far too much of the county's trash goes into the incinerator and landfill, only accelerating the time when the county will have to invest in a new landfill. An efficiently administered recycling program is good for taxpayers and good for the environment.
The commission needs to consider LaSala's proposal. But most important, it needs to commit to recycling.