AVON PARK- Richard and Esther Hatcher have lived in Avon Park since 1957. For most of those years, it was difficult to recycle and meant extra trips to recycling bins -- if any existed at all.
But since the city's recycling program began in Dec. 2012, the Hatchers have been more than willing to do their part to help the environment and save the city money.
After a year of sorting through aluminum, glass, paper and cardboard and nearly two square miles added to the city since 2009, city leaders say Avon Park's recycling program is working and helping to curb costs.
"We use it every Wednesday. I think it was a very good idea to do it," said Esther Hatcher. "Before, I didn't have the convenience (to recycle); now, I don't have an excuse. We appreciate the service and we're glad it's working for us, the city and the county."
In 2013, the City of Avon Park averaged 46 tons of materials per month and 552 total tons recycled for the year. Avon Park City Manager Julian Deleon said the city's residential sanitation rates also have been steadily reduced, reducing garbage rates from a high of $20 per month to its current level of $16 per month.
Curbside recycling has been in place in Avon Park since Dec. 2012, and now averages 39 to 49 tons per month of recyclable refuse. Although it may seem insignificant, Deleon said uniform city garbage cans with hinged lids have helped keep them secure to the cans, removing water weight from tipping fees, which are based on total weight per unit.
Prior to 2012, residents used their own rubbish bins, and when the program was started two years ago, it cost the city about $180,000 to supply about 4,300 uniform, city-owned cans. The lidded bins help divert recyclables from the normal waste stream, keeping weight down and savings up.
"Removing the water weight is just a good management practice," said Deleon. "Hinged lids make it possible and easy for city residents to keep the lids closed. It sounds simple, but it's effective."
Currently, Avon Park is the only Highlands County municipality with curbside recycling, which is picked up Wednesdays. In addition, the city offers cardboard recycling Dumpsters to businesses, which adds 12 to 13 tons of commercial cardboard recycled each month.
In a April 15, 2013, staff report on the city's sanitation budget and proposed rate reductions, Deleon stressed there are some residents who opt not to recycle and use non-city garbage cans and, to date, the city has stopped processing non-city cans.
"If we continue to tip and empty non-city garbage carts, we have eliminate the need to recycle," he wrote.
Avon Park resident William Hoogterp said based on what he sees in his Highlands Ridge community, he and most of his neighbors actively recycle. He said he also regularly recycles his yard waste, thanks to curbside services.
"I think it's very well-received. I see all lot of containers out and they all get full," he said.
Helping coordinate the recycling collections is Luke Ancrum, Avon Park's public works operations manager. He said over the past 14 months, he thinks the recycling program has become routine for most residents and Republic Services, which is contracted by the city to do the recycling, has been consistent it their work.
"For the most park, people are recycling. I think the City of Avon Park is doing pretty good with regular recycling," he said.
Theresa Morris, Republic city dispatcher based in Haines City, said currently three trucks with automated recycling equipment staffed by three drivers collect Avon Park's recycling. She said about 10 tons each Wednesday and 15 tons on holidays is average.
In contrast to Highlands County, municipalities in neighboring Polk County have been recycling since Lakeland began in 1998, said Ana Wood, Polk County director of waste and recycling. She confirmed Winter Haven, Lake Wales, Auburndale, Lakeland and Bartow have curbside recycling and in fiscal year 2013, 13,000 tons of recycled material was collected curbside in Polk County.
"I think everyone's beginning to recognize it's (Avon Park recycling) been a good thing. I'm getting a lot of compliments about it," said Avon Park councilman and resident Terry Heston. "I have it out on the curb every Wednesday," In addition to recycling, Deleon said system improvements in the city's landfill tipping fees -- the charge levied on waste received at a waste processing facility -- have resulted in a $87,000 savings in fees per year, a 23.3 percent reduction in the budget for landfill fees since 2009. Those fees are paid to Highlands County and have gone from a high of $372,000 to $285,000 currently.