Hernando voters will get a chance on the Nov. 2 general election ballot to make the county and their pocketbooks a little greener. They should grab that opportunity and answer ''yes'' to an advisory referendum to bolster residential recycling.
The ballot questions asks, "Do you favor implementing universal automated once-per-week garbage, yard waste and recycling pickup services?'' It's a no-brainer.
The intended results will increase recycling, cut household costs and extend the life of the Hernando landfill, which just opened a new cell at a cost of $9.5 million.
Or, as Commissioner David Russell succinctly put it, the referendum is about "cleaner, cheaper, faster.'' Here's why:
If approved by voters and implemented by commissioners, new franchise agreements with private contractors will provide each household with weekly curbside pickup of garbage, yard waste and recyclables — aluminum, plastic, newspaper and cardboard. It will replace the current hodgepodge system in which only some Spring Hill residents have curbside recycling and more than 18,000 households, or 24 percent of the county, have no garbage pickup at all.
The consequences of such a convoluted solid waste collection system are wasted resources and a dismal recycling rate even among Spring Hill households who pay for mandatory service.
Last year, Hernando County households sent 75,000 tons of trash to be buried in the landfill and just 4,800 tons of plastic, metal and paper to be recycled for a paltry residential recycling rate of just 6.5 percent. The county estimates that nearly half of the residential trash sent to the landfill can be recycled.
If successfully implemented countywide, trash flow to the landfill could be cut to 68,000 tons (counting both household and commercial trash) annually. It means a longer life to the landfill, which will cut the dollars escrowed under state mandate for long-term care and closure costs.
Costs to the contractors are expected to drop — and result in corresponding savings to the public — because the automated system allows haulers to reduce personnel costs. Additional savings could come if the county agrees to send out the bills and collect the payments in an annual assessment, rather than requiring companies to mail quarterly bills.
Most significantly, if the system goes countywide, Hernando can eliminate its two convenience centers and recycling dropoff sites for an annual savings of $1.3 million, or $12 per household.
Currently, the county average per-household cost for trash collection is $183 including the $63.05 county assessment and $120 to private haulers. The county projects the proposed system will drop that annual cost by $20 to $25 per household, or an 11 to 13 percent savings.
Just as important as the dollars and cents is the common sense. Reusing plastics, aluminum, paper and cardboard protects natural resources and saves the landfill for materials that should be buried. The state of Florida wants locales to recycle three-quarters of their waste by the end of the next decade. Without an efficient, widespread curbside recycling effort, Hernando County will never reach that goal.
Commissioner Jeff Stabins accurately called this referendum a public legacy and "the right thing to do.'' We agree.
The Times recommends voters approve the advisory referendum on changing the county's trash, yard waste and recycling pick-up program.