Universal Recycling kind of sounds like mom and apple pie, but it is really a tax hike. The proponents of this plan would require every St. Petersburg Resident to have an extra recycling can or bin and have an increased garbage bill to pay for the plan. That is the same thing as “mandatory recycling”. But wait, say the “universal recyclers”, this is not “mandatory” because you can choose NOT to put recyclables into the can. However, they neglect to point out that every resident will be REQUIRED to pay the increased cost of the recycling program. In addition, every resident may be faced with only once a week pickup of their regular garbage supplemented by once a week pickup of recycled goods. Picture a big black rolling garbage can having to last an entire week for garbage and a small blue rolling cart for recyclables.
The proponents use some very fuzzy math and compare apples to oranges to try to say that this will actually save money for the city. However, when pressed, no advocate of mandatory (“Universal” recycling) can produce a dollar amount by which garbage bills will actually go down. Even though the League of Woman Voters paid a consultant to do a study on mandatory recycling, the consultant never came up with a cost figure to estimate amounts to be paid by the city overall or by individual garbage bill customers. However a simple reading of the report tells the story: every person will have a higher garbage bill. An analysis by the City of St. Petersburg agrees that mandatory recycling by every City customer would increase garbage bills every month.
WMNF published the consultant’s report done by Kessler Consulting, Inc (PDF here) released in April 2013. The company never once indicated how much the program would cost. It indicates that the City could opt to go with “single” stream recycling where all recyclables are placed in one large rolling can. It indicated one option would be to adopt the Osceola county model of one day for garbage, one day for recyclables and one day for yard trimmings. Immediately, the costs seem enormous. The City would have to buy new rolling containers, find a way for the staff to manage the recyclables with new trucks or an additional truck and then deal with the recyclables after deliver – ensuring sorting of paper, plastic and metal. How can that save money? After conversing with mandatory recycling advocates, it is clear that advocates of this mandatory recycling program will still advocate for it, even if the garbage bill goes up.
The Kessler report also indicates (properly) that St. Petersburg has the one of the highest fees of all Pinellas county cities for its current voluntary recycling program. It doesn’t point out that the city sanitation department has collected an extra $3 million per year since 2006, while generating a surplus used to pay other city expenses. However, Kessler then makes the odd conclusion that since other cities recycle and have lower monthly fees, then somehow the City’s sanitation fees will go down. It may be true that the service fee for recycling will go down from its high level, the fact is that tens of thousands of households will then add a NEW FEE to their sanitation bill or have a hidden increase in their bill since they will have to start paying for recycling they don’t currently do. In other words, everyone will be paying for recycling, and everyone’s garbage bill will go up along with their workload of hauling extra cans to the road and sorting their trash. Remember, even though the city offers a subsidized, low cost recycling program to city residents, less than 10% of them volunteer to participate!
The Kessler Report then throws in facts about how local jobs can be created, more tons can be recycled and the environment might benefit. However, they don’t report on the decreased tonnage going to the garbage incinerator that produces electricity the city receives as revenue. The Mandatory recycling program does not account for increased city staff costs for more container handling and the increased cost of cans and new trucks. The mandatory recycling program does not account for the extra fuel used to drive through town picking up recycling – damaging the economy and producing more greenhouse gases too. They don’t report on how long trucks will be idling as they handle two containers instead of one – burning more fuel and producing more exhaust. They also don’t account for the negative impact on charities like church groups and the Boy Scouts who would lose recyclables that often raise small amounts of money for them.
The fact is that right now less than 10% of the citizens voluntarily pay the city-subsidized recycling company to recycle their waste. That is because people are not willing to pay the extra cost and don’t want to be forced to do the extra work. The League of Women’s Voters is pushing the Mandatory Recycling program. City Council Hopeful Darden Rice also supports this mandatory program that will increase individual’s garbage bills to advance this agenda. City Council candidate Dr. David McKalip has stated he will opposed a mandatory recycling program (the author of this blog). The city needs to focus its efforts on filling its $325 million Pension and Health benefit shortfall for retired workers, cutting taxes, and focusing on public safety instead of another feel good agenda item that will cost citizens more and still not deliver on its promises.