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Pinellas eyes recycling goal

Published Oct. 13, 2005

The stench is overwhelming as garbage trucks empty their loads of fruit peels, cardboard boxes, used mattresses, coffee grounds and other throwaways on the concrete floor. Pushed into 35-feet tall garbage mountains by bulldozers, the foul waste burned daily at Pinellas County's incinerator is a reminder to local residents _ keep recycling.

Counties are required to recycle at least 30 percent of their trash by 1994 or risk losing much of their state financing, according to Florida's 1988 Solid Waste Management Act. Also by 1994, counties must recycle 50 percent of their aluminum, newspapers, glass and plastic bottles.

A state report issued Friday suggests Pinellas is on its way toward meeting those goals, but not without some increased effort from residents and businesses.

"It's going to be hard to recycle 30 percent," said Rebecca Stone-Franklin, Pinellas County's recycling coordinator. "We're going to try as hard as we can."

Pinellas County recycled 22 percent of its trash last year, ranking it seventh among Florida's 67 counties for recycling efforts, according to the Florida Department of Environmental Regulation (DER).

County-sponsored recycling began three years ago, as directed by the state, and the recycling rate increased by 4 percentage points the first year. At that pace, Pinellas County would reach the 30 percent limit by 1992.

State environmental officials are optimistic with the progress counties have made in only a few years. "I think Pinellas County probably will reach the (30 percent) goal by 1994," said Ron Henricks, an environmental supervisor with DER. "As far as every county meeting the goal, if I had to bet money on it, I would say no."

Of Florida's 20 most populated counties, all but two _ Seminole and Okaloosa _ are recycling at least 10 percent of their trash. Early success with recycling programs has some officials talking about setting a higher percentage goal before 1994, just as county governments thought they were reaching the desired mark.

Henricks said Pinellas County residents deserve a pat on the back.

"Florida is considered leading-edge in recycling," he said. "I'd have to give us a real high score for it."

Pinellas' programs

Only part of Pinellas County's success is due to highly touted curbside recycling programs sponsored by the county and cities. Financed by the county, 60,000 single-family homes throughout Pinellas now have containers for glass, aluminum and newspapers that are set by the curb one a week for pickup. Combined with the county's 66 drop-off centers, the materials collected by individual recyclers amount to about 6 percent of the county's trash.

Business recycling programs are perhaps more important, environmentalists say. More than one-third of Florida's 19.4-million tons of trash in 1990 came from stores, factories and offices, according to DER figures.

Henricks said he is confident businesses will jump on the recycling bandwagon, pointing to early success by companies such as Eckerd Drugs and Kash n' Karry.

Companies have to be responsible for their own recycling because the county doesn't have the money to provide curbside pick-up for them, Stone-Franklin said.

Hillsborough County, which leads Pinellas County with a 24 percent recycling effort to be third in the state, attributes the boom to corporate cooperation.

"We rely on companies to work out deals with their waste hauler," said Hillsborough County Recycling Coordinator Gretchen Fulmer. Because businesses are charged by the size of the trash bin they use and how often it must be emptied, recycling makes sense for them, Fulmer said.

"There are a lot of businesses out there that could reduce their garbage fee if they recycled," she said.

Another way the community can promote recycling is for people to start buying products made from recycled materials, Stone-Franklin said.

"If you do not buy those products that are made from recycled material, you're not recycling," Stone-Franklin said. "You not only need to recycle your newspaper, you need to buy toilet paper and napkins and paper towels that are made from recycled material. You need to call the company that made your cereal box and see if it was made from recycled paper."

Zealous recyclers who don't in turn buy recycled products have created a glut of materials, Henricks said. Some recycling centers, such as Ace Recycling in St. Petersburg, have stopped accepting glass. Others pay less and less for recyclables because the markets are flooded.

Anyone interested in starting a recycling program can call the Pinellas County Recycling Hot Line at 530-6530 or the Florida Business and Industry Recycling Program at (800) 352-2477. Both agencies have lists of available recycling points near homes or businesses.

As people pitch in to recycle their trash, Stone-Franklin wants them to realize they are keeping garbage out of the county's massive incinerator. The smokestacks run 24 hours a day, seven days a week to burn the area's waste.

"It's really important that people see what it looks like," Stone-Franklin said from her office just yards away from the burning trash. "People can make a difference."