Pasco News

Recycling alternative has surprisingly strong start

After more than two decades, blue bags filled with recyclable trash could slowly disappear from Pasco County curbsides.

An alternative program rolled out last years is off to a surprisingly strong start, according to the county’s recycling coordinator.

In 1992, Pasco officials created the blue-bag program and began waiting for a better option.

Over the next 21 years, alternatives were discussed and rejected. County officials once considered supplying separate containers to residents for various types of recyclables or requiring people to buy the containers. Potential cost doomed that notion. In addition, haulers balked at buying or retrofitting garbage trucks to handle the specialized containers.

That better option finally seemed to come along in June 2013 when Pasco started its Choose and Use program.

Residents could buy just about any type of standard container they wished and then put a county sticker “Curb It Pasco” on it, according to Pasco Recycling Coordinator Jennifer Seney. The sticker alerted the hauler to treat it as recyclable trash.

The new program in its first year produced startling results by boosting tonnage of recycled items about 23.5 percent, Seney said Friday.

“We’re pleased with that,” Seney said about the success of Choose and Use. “To be honest, it’s more than I expected.”

Curbside tonnage of recycled trash logged about 3,131 tons in the 12 months ending May 31, 2013, county records show.

After Choose and Use was fully implemented, the recycling tonnage jumped to 3,867 tons from July 1, 2013, through June 30.

That’s an additional 736.53 tons in a single year, or 23.52 percent, Seney emphasized.

Recycling is rebounding after the recession suppressed participation, Seney said. The lagging economy also inhibited construction, making life difficult for local firms recycling demolition debris.

When Pasco began publicizing its next campaign for recycling in June, the promotion generated 973 phone calls from interested residents in a matter of weeks. The county handed out another 573 stickers in short order as well.

For now, blue bags remain an option for recycling trash. Fewer stores, however, seem to be stocking them, she said.

Seney would prefer to see a “soft phase-out” of the blue bags.

“Recycling processors have problems with them,” Seney added. The plastic bags can get wrapped around gears.

Commissioner Henry Wilson recently congratulated Seney, Assistant County Administrator for Utilities Bruce Kennedy and everyone in the recycling and solid waste department for the county ranking thrid in the state, with a 68 percent recycling rate.

In recent years, however, recycling statistics became a bit muddled and harder to interpret, Seney said. There are two separate ways nowadays to measure recycling.

Lawmakers passed legislation to begin counting waste-to-energy conversions of trash in the recycling rate as part of the goal to reach 75 percent recycling.

State statistics seem to show Pasco fourth in the state at first blush, Seney said, but it does indeed rank third among counties that operate their own incinerators instead of exporting trash.

The Pasco County Solid Waste Resource Recovery Facility, in the Shady Hills area, began burning trash to generate electricity in 1991. Covanata Energy operates the plant.

“Diehard traditionalists cringed at that,” Seney said about the new measurement with waste-energy credits. The incinerators produce electricity by burning the trash, but Seney and others think of recycling as transforming discarded materials into new products.

Even by that traditional yardstick, Pasco has performed well with a 36 percent rate. At one point, the Pasco recycling rate had fallen close to 25 percent, particularly during the recession. That figure includes curbside pickup, drop-offs, scrap metal programs, private recyclers and other sources.

“I’m proud of the 36 percent,” Seney said.

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