By Yvette C. Hammett | Tribune Staff
Published: March 2, 2014
TAMPA — Those hulking blue bins taking up significant space in local garages and side yards are getting a lot more use than Hillsborough County officials predicted.
Since switching to the new automated waste management and recycling program four months ago, the number of households participating in unincorporated Hillsborough’s recycling program has doubled — from 33 percent to nearly 67 percent — said Solid Waste Manager Kim Byer. And the amount of aluminum, cardboard, glass, steel and paper being collected has increased by 90 percent.
Solid waste officials are thrilled with the initial results, and are cautiously optimistic that participation will remain high. “If you take the straight math of it, the first four months of a new program doesn’t show how it will be forever, but we are seeing a very positive trend,” said John Lyons, the county’s public works director.
“Single-stream” recycling collection — putting everything in one bin — is fairly new, but is a nationwide trend, said Ron Henricks, a waste reduction administrator with Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection. “Ten years ago nobody was doing it.” Now, he said, about half of Florida’s nearly 20 million people are served by such programs.
By allowing consumers to put all recyclables in one curb-side cart — instead of separating the items — they tend to find it easier and more acceptable, Henricks said.
Hillsborough County is third, statewide — behind Martin and Lee counties — in the percentage of waste it is recycling, Henricks said. As a whole, he said, Florida is recycling 48 percent of its waste. And according to the Environmental Protection Agency, 34 percent of waste generated nationally was being recycled in one way or another as of 2009.
Last year, before Hillsborough initiated its automated program, haulers reported collecting about 32,000 tons of recyclables, Lyons said. The county now is on target to collect 60,000 tons of materials in this first year of the new program.
Byer, the Solid Waste manager, said her department will study which neighborhoods are doing a good job recycling and which ones might need more education. The county’s new recycling bins are equipped with computer chips so that every time one tips into a recycling truck, a record is made. “Once we get our arms around that data, we will be able to figure out which neighborhoods to gear that outreach toward,” Byer said.
Since launching the new program, the county has taken in $1.38 million from selling recyclables. Previously, county waste haulers owned the recyclables they collected. Now, Progressive Waste Solutions, the county’s processor, receives an average of $120 per ton for recyclables, keeps $50 of that for processing and gives the county nearly 97 percent of the remaining $70, Lyons said. That money will be used to keep collection fees down, he said.