Recycling coming to the Gulf beaches

Recycling in Indian Rocks Beach could be a thing of the past if the worldwide market for recyclables doesn’t pick up.

INDIAN ROCKS BEACH – Recycling in Indian Rocks Beach could be a thing of the past if the worldwide market for recyclables doesn’t pick up.

City commissioners are considering dropping the contract with Waste Connections and ending the city’s recycling program when that contract expires in December.

The issue of recycling came up during budget discussions at the commission meeting on July 24. The proposed budget for the next fiscal year shows an increase in the monthly recycle fee from $25.28 to $27.81 and a 25 percent increase in commercial container rates.

Calvin Warren, the city’s solid waste supervisor, told commissioners that China, the country that normally buys all recycled material, has stopped buying as much because the market just isn’t there anymore, thus the increase in cost.

More than that he said because there is no demand for local recyclables. Much of what is picked up goes to the dump and not to the recycle center at all.

Trash in Pinellas County goes to a giant incinerator that actually produces electricity. Warren noted that recycled material is still being recycled but in a different way.

The hitch in that story is that in the next budget, recycling will cost the city of IRB more than $200,000 annually. Whereas it would only cost the city $54,000 if the recycling program were dropped, and the recyclables went with all the other trash to the incinerator.

Warren said he couldn’t say how much of the current recyclables goes to be recycled, but he felt most of it goes to the incinerator.

Another reason why the contents of those blue recycle bins end up in the trash is because of what they call contamination. That is when people put items that are not recyclable into the bins. Ten percent contamination is acceptable; 15 percent is not. Warren said most towns have between 15 and 20 percent contamination in their recyclables.

“No matter how much you educate people they will still contaminate the bins. It is a problem nationwide not just here,” he said. “An expensive education program would take six to eight months to kick in,” he said, referring to the ongoing contamination of the recycle bins.

“We are creating a backlog in the current environment,” said Commissioner Ed Hoofnagle. “Pinellas County’s solid waste facility is a great operation; people come from all over to see it but the concept of recycling as we know it might be gone. Why not take it to the dump and burn it?”

Commissioner Phil Wrobel wondered if the city could just use recycle depots where people could bring their own bins and empty them.

City Manager Gregg Mims warned against that because he said it would overtax the facilities. He said if the recycle program were ended then the city should get out of it altogether.

He also cautioned commissioners that if city officials discontinued the recycle program then it would be a big job to get people back to recycling once things change. He was confident they would change someday.

So was Commissioner Phil Hanna.

“I don’t see recycling coming to an end,” he said. “People want to recycle but if there is nowhere for it to go then what can we do?”

Commissioner Wrobel said before a decision is made to abandon the program residents should be told why it is happening.

“I would like to educate people,” he said. “Let’s cut our losses and get out of the program in December.”

Resident Jean Scott said she had no idea what was going on with the recycle program.

“I was amazed that they are taking it and dumping it,” she said.

Mayor Cookie Kennedy agreed.

“It is very discouraging,” she said.

Kennedy noted that in occasional surveys city residents often bring up the recycling program.

Mims added that if the program were to end they could expect pushback from the residents.

“We have to be aware that people will react,” he said.

He also said it was time to face reality.

“People think that once they fill that blue box it is taken to some magical place where everything is sorted and put to good use,” he said. “That’s not the way it is.”

Commissioners left the meeting with the promise that the issue would come back for more discussion before the contract expires in December.

“Let’s spend time in the next three months clarifying the recycling situation,” said Hoofnagle.

In the meantime, the proposed increase in recycle fees per household will remain in the budget and residents will have an opportunity to discuss that and other budget items at the next budget meeting Sept. 4 at 7 p.m.