Recycling benefits environment, not municipalities

10:02 PM, Oct 25, 2010   |    comments
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Tampa, Florida - It's something you probably do to go green.

But chances are your curbside recycling doesn't bring in any green for your city or county.

In fact, most recycling programs come at a cost to the municipalities they serve.

"The program is provided to the public, not as a profit.  It's provided as a service," explained Hillsborough County spokesperson James Ransom.

Hillsborough County outsources its recycling program to three companies, which charge residential customers between $9.40 and $9.84 a month for all trash pickup services. 

Part of that monthly fee goes through the county and straight to one of three companies: Waste Management, Republic Waste Services or Waste Services, Inc.

Those companies pick up the recycling, and they get to keep the money from selling the materials.

"We go to the trouble to collect to provide to the companies...and we're benefitting nothing for the county?" asked Don Paeglow of Hillsborough County.  "I'm sorry but that's inexcusable...and we're footing the bill."

But the setup saved Hillsborough County some green when the economy tanked.

In November of 2008, the commodities market took a nosedive, along with the value of everything recyclable.

But because Hillsborough County outsources its recycling program, it was the recycling companies that took a hit, not the county.

"The consumer was not affected," said a Waste Management spokesperson.

Still, the commodities market, which changes on a month-to-month basis, is slowly starting to recover.

"[The value of commodities] dropped dramatically, and it's started slowly picking back up, but it's taken a while," said Amy Voyson of Waste Management.

Unlike Hillsborough County, the City of Tampa handles its own recycling and pays for all its own trucks, fuel and personnel costs.

Not only is the city is responsible for maintaining the program's overhead, but it also takes a hit when commodity values tank.

"The commodities market was wonderful when we first got into commodities," said Tonja Brickhouse, director of the City of Tampa's Solid Waste and Environmental Program.

But, she added, the recycling program has always cost more than it's brought in.

According to documents obtained by 10 News, Tampa's recycling program cost $3 million in 2006.

By 2009, the program cost $3.3 million.  And in fiscal year 2010, the program cost nearly $3.4 million.

"I'm surprised they're losing money on it," said Tampa resident Linda Evans.

Still, Brickhouse says fluctuations in the commodities market haven't played a large role in Tampa's recycling program.  The program's increased cost might also reflect a rise in the number of Tampa residents paying for recycling.

But recycling programs have always been costly.  In fact, municipalities liken them to public transportation or public parks.  They're programs that are provided as a service to the public.  They're not built to be money-makers.

"We have a number of services provided to the public that don't make money, but they are essential to the quality of life we provide for our citizens," Ransom said.

Under the Florida Statutes, all counties in the state are required to participate in some sort of recycling program.

Janie Porter, 10 News

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