LARGO – Largo recycling coordinator Marissa Segundo clicked her heels with excitement outside the community room in city hall Feb. 12, after Largo commissioners expressed enthusiasm for the city’s plans to expand the recycling services they offer to residents.
Currently, the city collects materials from 14- or 18-gallon recycling bins left in front of single-family homes once a week, collecting plastic bottles numbers 1 and 2, mixed paper, aluminum cans and flattened cardboard, but not glass or cans made of steel or tin. About 32 percent of residents participate in the optional program, a rate the city has had no success in increasing, Segundo explained to the commission.
“The amount of recycles kept out of the landfill over the past four years have kind of plateau-ed at about 22 percent, despite multiple modes of outreach,” she said.
The city has wanted to transition to a single-stream curbside recycling program, in which far more materials are collected with an automated side-loader just like the vehicle that currently collects residents’ trash. In such a program, the recyclables would be sold to a material recovery facility where the various recyclables would be sorted into clean and homogenous types of materials.
Tampa Bay’s lack of such a facility has been a hindrance to implementing the more user-friendly service up until now, Segundo said.
“Now that the processing options have been available, we are able to move forward with presenting plans for potential changes,” she said.
In a single-stream program, the city could collect 11 new types of recyclables, said Gene Ginn, assistant solid waste manager. That includes the addition of plastics numbers 3 through 7 – anything from butter tubs, disposable plates and cups to fruit containers and black planting pots – aluminum foil; steal and tin cans; clear, brown and green glass; milk and juice paper cartons and juice boxes.
The recycling carts themselves would be larger and easier to roll out to the curb. They would also protect the recyclables from the rain or blowing away in the wind.
“I’ve been waiting for this for a long time. I’m tired of taking the bin out overloaded and chasing down the papers down the neighborhood all the time,” Commissioner Michael Murray said in his comments supporting the program.
The automated collection also would reduce the personnel from two employees who need to get out of the truck to pick up the bins down to only one employee who never leaves the truck.
“Automated collection methods have historically proved to increase worker safety and create efficiently of the collection program,” Ginn said.
Most importantly, other recent single-stream programs implemented in the Tampa Bay region have shown 50 to 100 percent increases in resident participation as well as the amount of materials recycled, Segundo said.
Implementing the program would cost about $2 million in capital funds if implemented immediately, said Charles Jordan, budget analyst for the city’s public works department. The city would spend about $600,000 for new side-loader vehicles and the rest on new recycling carts.
In general, however, any investment costs would be offset by a reduction in operating costs, specifically an annual reduction of $100,000 to $120,000 in tipping fees, charged to the city for offloading waste at landfills.
“In five years, that’s a substantial amount of money,” Jordan said.
Additionally, the city would save operating costs by reducing its vehicles, reducing curbside collection workers through attrition as well as reducing worker’s compensation costs, Jordan explained. The city pays out about $240,000 in worker’s compensation for its current, more hands-on recycling program. For its automated curbside garbage collection, that amount is only $1,000, Jordan said.
Aside from assessing whether the city should proceed with the plan, staff asked the Largo commission how fast they thought the program should be implemented. Staff could push citywide implementation of the program quickly, possibly as soon as 120 days, public works Director Brian Usher said.
Alternatively, the program could start with a “soft opening,” implanting the program to 2,500 homes sometime in the summer as a way of evaluating the true impact on participation rate. Or, the city could save capital funds by delaying citywide implementation until January or March 2014.
The commissioners were unanimous in their support of going to a single-stream program. Commissioner Woody Brown said he would like to see the program throughout the whole city rather than just a small portion of the city in a pilot program.
“I think this is a great program. I think it’s going to be very, very successful, so much so that it will reduce our solid waste to the point where we’ll be able to pick up trash once a week,” he said.
Usher said the department often considered a reduction in pick-up, but had to consider other factors, such as the warm Florida climate, which was not conducive to longer trash turnarounds.
Murray also supported faster implementation of the program.
“I would really like to see this rolled out as soon as possible, citywide. I think it’s really important. I think we owe it to ourselves and we owe it to future generations to start recycling as much as we can as quickly as we can,” he said.
Usher commented that Largo was taking the lead in considering an internally run, single-stream recycling system.
“There are more than a few communities that are watching what we do here and are prepared, once our proposal is awarded, to talk to the vendor about extending it to their communities,” he said.