Pinellas County has a math problem.
In 2020, the county released a solid waste master plan — a road map for how it would deal with the next 30 years of garbage — that noted that each Pinellas resident generates an average of more than 12 pounds of waste per day. Meanwhile, the county population is growing, on track to add another 200,000 residents by 2050.
The current landfill, at the county Solid Waste Disposal Complex near 28th Street, will fill up around 2100, the county projects. Then, the county will have to pay to truck waste out of the county. It’s got that much time because of the county’s waste-to-energy facility, which reduces most of the trash it takes into ash about one-tenth its original size.
In three years, though, that facility will be processing all the trash it can handle, meaning more garbage will head straight to the landfill. If that’s allowed to happen, it will fill up at an exponential rate, said Stephanie Watson, the recycling and outreach programs manager for the county’s solid waste department.
Officials hope to address that problem through changes to the county’s solid waste ordinance, which Watson said is “in need of a major refresh” — it hasn’t been thoroughly updated since the 1980s. The solid waste department will bring findings and suggestions to the Pinellas County Commission in August, Watson said. Before then, residents will have chances to weigh in at three public-input sessions this month.
Many of the proposed ordinance changes would likely focus on nixing outdated language and reflecting modern regulations, Watson said. But she suspects residents in unincorporated Pinellas will be more interested in the solid waste department’s desire to add mandatory recycling to the ordinance.
Requiring people to separate certain items — paper and cardboard, plastic and glass containers — from their trash would bring unincorporated Pinellas in line with the county’s two dozen municipalities, most of which have had such programs for about a decade, Watson said.
Exactly how it might look in unincorporated Pinellas is up in the air, Watson said. Her department wants public input in part because of how the waste-collection system works for unincorporated residents: While most cities provide garbage collection, it’s up to businesses and homeowners on unincorporated land to contract with haulers.
“We don’t know exactly how it would be implemented or planned,” she said. “We’re not presenting a plan to the public. We’re there to take (their) thoughts.”
Recycling requirements could go a long way toward making the math a little easier on Pinellas. The 2020 master plan noted that nearly a third of the material that went into the waste-to-energy system could’ve been recycled.
With more recycling, Watson said, even amid “the population increase ... it’ll allow us to stay where we are.”
If you go
Public-input meetings for solid waste ordinance revisions will be held from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on the following dates and locations:
Tuesday, July 11: The EpiCenter at St. Petersburg College, Room 1-451, 13805 58th St. N, Clearwater
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Monday, July 17: virtual, via Zoom
Wednesday, July 19: Harbor Hall, 1190 Georgia Ave., Palm Harbor
Registration information and other details are available at pinellas.gov/swordinance.