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Recycling policy criticized

Susan Torok and her boyfriend couldn't bear to put it in the garbage. Any of it.

So for three months, they piled bottles, cans and newspapers in growing heaps on the porch of their South Tampa apartment. Torok said they had no choice. Because they live in a complex that doesn't recycle, they have to drive to the University of South Florida _ 12 miles away _ if they want to be environmentally correct.

That argument is at the heart of a local Green Party effort to change city policy.

Torok and other members of the Green Party of Hillsborough want Tampa to force apartment complex owners to participate in the city's recycling program _ which city officials are reluctant to do.

As it stands, owners can join the free program if they want. But if they don't, their tenants are out of luck.

Until late last year, when neighborhood recycling was expanded citywide, the city provided recycling bins at more than a dozen drop-off sites.

But those sites, with the exception of the one at USF, were scrapped as part of the expansion.

"We felt like we were duplicating our services," said city recycling coordinator Barbara Heineken.

She said the drop-off program was costly and messy. In some cases, the big bins inspired illegal dumping and attracted vagrants.

Tampa City Council member Linda Saul-Sena acknowledges that drop-off centers can be a problem, but says there ought to be a way to serve apartment residents.

"I would like to see an option for tenants who want to participate in a recycling program and have reticent landlords," she says.

Hillsborough County offers drop-off sites in Town 'N Country and Thonotosassa.

Heineken said the city doesn't force families in single-family homes to recycle. So why would it force apartment owners?

"I'm not for it," Heineken said.

City policy for apartment owners is simple: If you ask, we'll help. The city will provide containers and pick-up service. All apartment owners have to do is find space.

Heineken said 79 complexes, with 7,000 apartments, are in the city program. One or two call every week to sign up.

That's another reason not to make it mandatory, Heineken said: "Most of them will do it if the people there want it."

Since the beginning of the year, the Green Party has called more than 170 complexes to encourage the owners to recycle, Torok said. At best, a handful may have said yes.

The Greens are circulating a petition to prod City Council to move. As of last week, they had 500 signatures.