The city of Key West is ready to sink $631,290 into the belief that changing recycle bins to 65-gallon wheeled plastic carts will inspire residents to increase the island's dismal recycling rate of under 10 percent.
At its Tuesday meeting, the City Commission will review staff's plan to buy 13,000 of the "carts," which look identical to the present collection of regular garbage bins except for having yellow lids.
These carts, made by the company Rehrig, would replace the 18-gallon rectangular bins that research shows Key West residents use sparingly or not at all, despite the free bins available from Waste Management Inc. by calling 305-296-8297, and "single stream" collection services, which mean residents don't have to separate plastic, aluminum, glass and newspaper.
"The current 18-gallon containers are far too small to capture all of the recyclable materials produced by the typical household," wrote Utilities Manager Jay Gewin in a Jan. 29 memo to the city manager's office.
Other cities that have upgraded to larger recycling carts have seen a "significant increase in residential recycling rates," Gewin wrote.
Jody Smith Williams, a Key West environmentalist who would recycle no matter what, already has a 65-gallon cart and said it has made recycling much more convenient and pleasant. She decided to buy one for her home.
"They keep everything dry, out of view of nosy neighbors and hold so much more than the small bins," she said in an email Tuesday. "The wheels also make it much easier to transport to the curb and back, especially for the elderly."
If approved by the commission, which meets at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Old City Hall, 510 Greene St., the 65-gallon carts will arrive within about two months.
That gives Key West time to promote recycling among residents and inform them of a new plan that will offer three days of pickups each week: One for garbage, one for recycling and a third for yard waste.
Key West currently has two trash days a week, with one day reserved for recycling, too.
"It's one of the easy first steps," city Sustainability Coordinator said Alison Higgins of increasing recycling. "It's been proven in multiple places: If it's easier, people will use it more."
Commissioners Aug. 29 voted to start "Phase 1" of the new Solid Waste Master Plan, which includes trading in the 18-gallon bins for the larger ones.
Key West originally budgeted $750,000 for the new carts, but found a better price by asking to piggyback on a bid award that Deerfield Beach, Fla., put out for solicitation.
Bought in bulk, the carts cost $41.63 each, for a total of $541,190.
The rest of the $631,290 price tag includes $52,000 for assembly and delivery to residents -- at $4 per cart -- along with $13,000 for freight, $14,300 for the in-mold labels affixed to the top of each cart that explain what can be recycled and $10,800 for two handheld machines and software that will track each cart to its owner.
Key West will spent $10,800 each year on the software system.
The cart price comes with a 10-year full replacement warranty for the carts. No local company can provide the carts, Gewin said.
Waste Management, which has the island's garbage and recycling pickup contract, won't charge any additional fees due to the enlarged carts, which are compatible with the hydraulic mechanisms used to empty them into the company's trucks.
Switching to the large carts will likely increase Key West's recycling rate by at least 50 percent, according to the Kessler Consulting firm, which compiled the city's "master plan" for solid waste disposal.
Bring on the 65-gallon carts, recycling advocates say.
Williams, a veteran activist with the nonprofit Green Living & Energy Education (GLEE), said, "It's just one component of the overall master plan, but a very important one."