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Trash Costs Encourage Residents to Recycle

By TOM PALMER
NYT Regional Media Group

PAY AS YOU THROW

Rick Runion / NYT Regional Media Group
Republic Services Residential Recycle Driver Brian Odle puts recycling materials in his truck, Wednesday, April 27, 2011 in Winter Haven, Florida.

There was more behind last year’s rollout of the sometimes controversial 95-gallon garbage carts than simply streamlining garbage pickup in unincorporated Polk County.

The limits on how much residents could throw away each week also got more people thinking about recycling, according to Brooks Stayer, Polk County’s director of waste resource management.

“We’ve had requests for 43,000 new recycling bins since Oct. 1,” he said.

That was in addition to the 110,00 bins that were already out there.

As a result, from October through January, county residential customers recycled 4,028 tons of paper, plastic, glass, aluminum and steel, a 19 percent increase from the same period a year earlier.

The next step in the process is called “pay as you throw.” Pending approval from the County Commission, it will begin next year.

It will involve offering residential garbage customers the option of getting 35-gallon, 65-gallon or 95-gallon carts for household garbage and second carts as large as 95 gallons for recycling.

Deputy County Manager Bill Beasley said public education will be essential during the changeover, especially in retirement communities, which have been at the center of the resistance to the new carts.

The specific rates are still being developed, Stayer said.

Stayer updated commissioners on the program Friday and hopes to get the go-ahead during Tuesday’s County Commission meeting.

The current residential garbage rate for county customers is $154 per year, but some residents who dispose of less and recycle more will likely pay a lower rate.

Pay as you throw is not a new concept. It was made mandatory in many communities in Iowa in 1994, and has been instituted in other states.

Florida Department of Environmental Protection spokeswoman Kristin Lock said relatively few places in Florida, primarily Sarasota County and Gainesville, have adopted the program so far.

The success of their programs was mentioned in the March 2011 issue of Waste Age magazine.

The idea behind pay as you throw is not only to increase the recycling rate, but to increase the amount of revenue governments receive from recycled materials and to reduce the need to expand landfills.

Local environmentalist John Ryan said Polk officials are moving in the right direction.

“What it could do is to force people to see the real cost of their waste,” he said. “It should also incentivize more people to recycle.”

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency cites the equity issue in its analysis of pay as you throw.

“When the cost of managing trash is hidden in taxes or charged at a flat rate, residents who recycle and prevent waste subsidize their neighbors’ wastefulness. Under PAYT, residents pay only for what they throw away,” EPA officials wrote.

Looking into the future, Polk County’s efforts are aimed at working toward meeting a state goal of recycling 75 percent by 2020.

That goal was contained in legislation approved in 2008.

Polk’s current recycling rate is 23 percent. The statewide average is 29 percent.

Polk County’s recycling rate has remained relatively unchanged during the past decade, between 22 percent and 25 percent.

According to the most recent statewide figures compiled by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, county recycling rates in 2009 ranged from a low of 2 percent in Washington County, a rural county in the Panhandle, to 45 percent in Duval County, a relatively urban county composed of Jacksonville and its suburbs.

For Polk County, the ongoing challenge has been to persuade more people to participate in curbside recycling.

In 2009, figures compiled by Polk County and submitted to DEP officials showed that 24 percent of the homes that had curbside recycling available were participating.

Meanwhile, recycling participation for commercial and multifamily has been lagging.

The DEP figures for 2009 put Polk’s recycling participation for multifamily units at zero and at only 8 percent for commercial garbage customers.

Polk County’s Stayer said those figures may not accurately reflect how much commercial recycling is occurring because reports of commercial recycling are voluntary and many commercial recyclers are privately held and do not report because they don’t want to reveal information on their operations to competitors.

He said commercial recycling is important because that’s where most of the waste in generated.

“Only 25 percent of our tonnage is residential,” he said, explaining the rest is commercial or from cities, which involves a mix of residential and commercial waste.

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