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Demise of blue bags brings glitches to recycling

LAND O'LAKES — The end of the blue bags came with some red flags for residents accustomed to Pasco County's curbside recycling program.

Pasco ditched its 23-year-old blue bag program Oct. 1. The move became necessary after recyclers declined to bid on the county contract to sort and resell plastic, glass and metal cans if the materials came wrapped in plastic bags. Residents are now mandated to put recyclable materials in their own containers if they want haulers to retrieve the items during twice-a-month pickups.

The changeover caught lots of people off guard and left some residents wondering why their recyclables hadn't been taken. Last week, for instance, a drive around five streets in the Land O'Lakes neighborhoods of Lake Padgett Estates East and Eagle Island Estates revealed three dozen homes with blue bags at the curb.

"That's the frustrating part," homeowner Bill Fairbanks said. "You do what you can to help out, but at what point do you give in and say, 'The heck with it' and start throwing it away again?"

The scenario played out elsewhere around the county, as well.

"We've been getting a lot of calls and so have the haulers," said Jennifer Seney, Pasco's recycling coordinator.

Haulers were supposed to affix a red sticker to the blue bags left at the curb, explaining the change.

"Sorry. We're leaving your recycling behind because Pasco County no longer accepts bags for collection of recyclables," it read and included instructions on where to obtain recycling stickers for residents to attach to their own containers. "We'll pick you up next time."

Fairbanks said his bags contained no such red-stickered notice.

Ray Cain of Eagle Boulevard also spied his recyclables at the end of his driveway after the haulers had been through his neighborhood. His bag, however, did have the red sticker attached.

"Anything that makes it easier, we're all for," Cain said. "This doesn't make it easier."

Seney acknowledged the surprise from residents even though the county had tried to get the word out with paid advertising, newspaper stories and social media promotion.

The complaints began Oct. 7, the day the largest hauler, Progressive Waste Solutions, which has 61 percent of the Pasco market, picked up recycling. By week's end, the county had received 33 complaints via telephone or email. Over those same three days, 219 residents called the county requesting stickers to attach to their own recycling containers.

Two county commissioners, Jack Mariano and Mike Wells Jr., had sought a grace period after Oct. 1, and Seney said some residents also wrongly presumed they would have more time to make the change.

There was no grace period because the county's private contractor refused to accept anything in plastic bags. Recyclers, in declining to bid for the Pasco business earlier this year, told the county the bags slow down processing conveyor belts, require extra labor to dig through the sealed bags and damage equipment when the thin plastic sheets wrap around parts of the machinery.

"There really is no option. This will be a little bit of a painful shift," Seney said.

Eventually, people may see a bright side.

"I guess," Fairbanks said, "it saves me from buying the blue bags."

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