Hernando Commissioner Jeff Stabins says he favors voluntary recycling. Sadly, that is what exists for three ZIP codes in Spring Hill where 80 percent of the 38,300 households in the curbside recycling program choose not to participate even though they're paying for it.
Stabins believes the county should scuttle the mandatory program that began eight years ago on an experimental basis. He labeled it an ''expensive and selective program that has outlived its usefulness.'' His suggestion came Tuesday after the commission previously agreed to halve the weekly collection of recyclables in a cost-cutting maneuver.
The frustration with the service reduction is understandable — though the commission opted for that tactic over a price increase — but killing the program is an overreaction and counterproductive in a county that has had to invest $9.1 million to expand its near-capacity landfill. The county would do better to promote the curbside recycling for which it and Spring Hill residents share costs.
Under the program, Spring Hill households pay $3.45 each quarter. The county had been kicking in $3.96 to finance the $1.15 million annual curbside recycling contract with Waste Management. It means 37,000 additional households outside Spring Hill contribute via a portion of their annual solid waste assessment. If anybody has a legitimate beef, it's those residents subsidizing a service unavailable to them.
Participation is roughly equal. The estimated 7,600 households putting out aluminum, plastic, newspapers and cardboard in bins for curbside collection produce 266 tons of material each month. The dropoff sites elsewhere around the county take in 260 tons monthly.
That meager participation rate deserves attention, not disregard, and commissioners would be wise to study the success of Sarasota County's mandatory recycling program before folding their own. The commission, however, appears headed in the wrong direction. Echoing Stabins, Commissioner Rose Rocco said she, too, would consider changes to he recycling program if state mandates were no longer applicable.
In 1988, Florida set a statewide recycling goal of 30 percent, but had failed to reach it two decades later. In January, the state Department of Environmental Protection set a new goal of recycling 75 percent of the solid waste produced in the state by 2020. Abandoning curbside recycling just because there is no state enforcement of its goals isn't leadership. It's political expedience.
The commission should spend its upcoming recycling workshop figuring out how to boost its participation rate, not calculating the best way to trash it.