City banking -- literally -- on recycling

The Key West City Commission is scheduled to vote Tuesday on the first reading of an ordinance that would create a mandatory residential recycling program.

It would include a 12-month community education effort and then enforcement from the city's Code Compliance Department -- including a fine and an order to Waste Management Inc. not to pick up your trash if you aren't recycling.

Commissioner Teri Johnston, who is sponsoring the ordinance, said, "We'd like to gain compliance through education. At the end of the 12-month time, we'll put some teeth behind it."

Johnston said that in addition to being the right thing to do, a mandatory recycling program would save the city much-needed money in a tight budget year.City residents recycle around 6 percent of what they can per year, officials say. Last year, that was 3,012 tons worth of recyclables.

The goal is to get to 30 percent, or 14,400 tons.

The city has budgeted to pay Waste Management Inc. $66.66 per ton to haul out 48,000 tons of trash this year. However, it doesn't pay to have recyclables hauled out.

If the city meets its 30 percent goal, it would save $759,124 by not paying Waste Management to haul out more than 11,000 tons of previously un-recycled waste.

Annalise Mannix, the city's Engineering Services manager, has acted as the city's go-to person on the proposed ordinance. She stressed the economic boon of recycling.

"The most important thing is people have been paying for it and not using it. For every ton we don't recycle, we pay extra. It's an important year to save money in any way, shape or form."

Mannix has been meeting with community and school groups as well as transient rental and condo managers in an effort to vet the proposed law. She said the response has been positive and that she believes after the education program, the 30 percent goal is achievable.

Face-to-face education will come from volunteers, largely drawn from the city's Ambassador program, and from code officers. The city also has a $20,000 promotional budget for flyers, inserts into utility bills, door hangers, and print and radio advertisements.

When the February 2010 enforcement date arrives, households not recycling will be fined $50. Then, according to a memo from Mannix to city management, "If staff does not see compliance (a recycle bin out) after significant educational opportunities were provided, the code officer will examine the trash and if there is recyclables, the officer will tape the trash pail closed and WM [Waste Management] will not pick up the trash."

Mannix and Johnston say the proposed law will easily get commission approval.

"We are destroying ourselves and we don't care," Mannix said. "The commission's job is to do what's right for the people even if the people don't think it's right. It's going to fly."

The City Commission meets Tuesday at 6 p.m. in Old City Hall on Greene Street.