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Not all take it to the curb

Curbside recycling is about as easy as it gets: Toss cans, bottles and newspapers together in a big, plastic bin, and once a week a truck comes by with a crew that sorts it all out and hauls it off.

That is how Oldsmar and Tarpon Springs handle recycling, just like trash pickup. Each city contracts with its garbage hauler to pick up recyclables.

Michael and Donna Ruth moved to a house in Oldsmar in March. They said the city's curbside recycling is better than the program in Pennsylvania where they used to live. There, they had to wash the containers and remove the labels.

"Now, we just take it out and put it by the curb," said Mrs. Ruth, 37. "I don't have to separate. There are no demands on washing and I don't have to remove labels. That was a pain. Some labels don't come off."

In Tarpon Springs, recycling is equally easy. But even so _ and even though each household pays for the service in its $12-a-month waste pickup fee whether it recycles or not _ participation in Tarpon Springs' curbside recycling program is only about 40 percent.

That is down from 60 percent right after the program started in October 1991. Oldsmar does not keep track of residents' participation.

"There are a few people who are really serious about it," said Barbara Hugg, the Tarpon Springs sanitation coordinator. "I think people get busy."

Leonard Gaines, residential supervisor for Waste Management Inc., which serves Tarpon Springs, said the most loyal recyclers are the young and the old. That leaves out perhaps the busiest group: baby boomers.

"What we are seeing is that your older residents, when you talk about recycling and the environment, they and younger kids are more into it," he said. "Those in middle age, those who are constantly on the go, have not done it."

Becky Housh, 39, of Tarpon Springs, said her family feels lucky to get just its newspapers together to be picked up by the recycling crew.

"We're a very busy family," she said while leaving Kmart about 8:30 p.m. Thursday. "Haven't been home since 6:30 this morning."

If some people are pressed for time, others may have lost enthusiasm. Recycling and other environmental issues were trendy at the beginning of the decade. This year, Earth Day was observed April 22 with no hype and barely any notice.

Hugg said she wants to better educate Tarpon Springs residents about how easy the program is and encourage more to participate.

It makes good sense to reuse things, but it also can keep waste collection rates down, she said.

Waste Management bases its rates on the average weight of trash it must incinerate or bury from each home. Recycling lowers that volume, Hugg said.

For instance, her family throws away about a half-bag of trash a week now. Before they began recycling, they averaged two bags a week.

Hugg said she plans a utility-bill mailing for the fall, when winter residents are in town, that explains how the service works and encourages people to use it. In the end, she said, it is a resident's responsibility to commit to use the program.

Tim Dugan, 40, of Rolling Oaks subdivision, agreed. His neighborhood is technically not part of Tarpon Springs, but it uses the city's waste collection program and other utilities, and his family recycles avidly, he said.

"You have to develop a recycling habit," he said. "I throw away less trash. I have people come over to my house, and it's obviously not their habit."