NEW PORT RICHEY — Pasco County is moving toward an overhaul of its curbside recycling effort that could end the 22-year-old blue bag program and replace it with a system that will accept paper and cardboard, but discontinue glass.
It is a significant alteration. Private haulers in Pasco currently offer twice-a-month curbside recycling of plastics, glass containers and metal cans, while the county has set up more than 100 drop-off bins at schools, fire stations and libraries for recycled paper and cardboard.
The impetus for the potential change is an expiring contract with Republic Services, which has processed the county's recycled material at its center in Polk County since 2012. A changing commodities market and greater competition from other processors means the county likely won't get the same deal it currently has. The contract, expiring Sept. 30, pays Pasco 58 percent of the recycling proceeds after subtracting a $60-per-ton tipping fee. The current market value of the county's recycled material is $149 a ton.
The money-loser is glass, which is the heaviest item in the recycling stream, but produces the least amount of value. So-called broken three-mix of clear, brown and green glass accounts for 40 percent of the county's recycled material, but drops proceeds by $17.50 per ton.
That, however, is only one of the problems facing the county. Two of the three waste haulers now operating recycling processing centers in the region have said they won't bid for the county's business if it continues its blue bag program, said John Power, director of Pasco's solid waste facility. Plastic bags slow down processing conveyor belts, require extra labor to dig through the bags, and can damage equipment when the thin plastic sheets wrap around parts of the machinery, said Jennifer Seney, Pasco's recycling coordinator.
To address market concerns, the county plans to seek requests for proposals for its recyclable materials using four scenarios: no change from the current program; ending the use of blue bags; ending blue bags and glass collection, and adding paper and cardboard collection.
During a briefing Tuesday, county commissioners initially questioned curbside recycling of paper and cardboard, fearing streets littered with blowing paper. They acquiesced after learning residents would not have to separate the items and could use their own covered containers, as some do now for other recyclables.
That program, known as "choose and use your own container,'' began in 2013, and brought a 23.5 percent annual increase in recycled materials over a 12-month period. However, the county burns more than 236,000 tons of garbage annually at its trash incinerator in Shady Hills, and one-fifth of that is recyclable paper and cardboard. Another 14 percent is cans and bottles that weren't recycled, according to a 2011 consultant's study.
The incinerator, which produces electricity from the burned waste, is approaching capacity, said Bruce Kennedy, the assistant county administrator for utilities. The county exceeded the incinerator's capacity during the building boom of the last decade and talked then of expanding the facility, but "I'm not sure where we sit today on that,'' Kennedy said. More of those issues will be addressed next month when the staff presents commissioners with a new 10-year plan for managing solid waste.
Lewis Corvene, 74, a longtime recycling advocate from Hudson, told the Tampa Bay Times he liked many, but not all, of the potential changes.
"People don't want to buy blue bags anyway, I think that's a fine idea, and curbside newspaper recycling makes sense. I take mine to a church,'' Corvene said. "But, eliminating glass I think is a mistake. Glass does not decompose. Why would we stop taking glass? Even if the market is poor, I think we have to deal with it.''
If the recycling program changes, Seney said, it would include an extensive public eduction campaign and a transition period to wean residents from putting blue bags and recycled glass at the curb.