If Lawrence residents want the city to create a weekly curbside recycling program, they must be willing to see their monthly sanitation bills double.
A new report by the city's Solid Waste Division estimates every household in Lawrence would have to pay an extra $11.24 per month to begin a once-per-week curbside recycling program to collect items like newspapers, glass, tin cans and cardboard. That would be nearly double the average monthly residential trash bill of $11.48.
The department is recommending that city commissioners once again take a pass on establishing the program, which has been periodically studied since the early 1990s.
"We don't think a program would increase the total amount of material recycled to any great extent, and the cost of the program is pretty high," said Bob Yoos, solid waste division manager. "But what we're saying is that if the decision-makers and the citizens want to pay that cost, it can be done."
City Commissioner David Schauner is betting most people wouldn't be willing to pay the price.
"My sense is that there would be great support for the idea behind the program, but a fair number of people would balk at the cost," he said.
Every household would be required to pay the fee, regardless whether it used the service. Schauner said in that case, it may make more sense for private businesses to provide the service.
Currently three companies -- Jeff's Curbside Recycling, Community Living Opportunities, and Home Recycling Service -- offer curbside recycling services. Prices range from $5 per month for once-a-month service to $15 per month for once-a-week pick up.
Yoos estimated about 500 residents take advantage of the service. Representatives of the companies said business was growing.
"Really, I'm busier than I want to be right now," said Jim Tuchscherer, owner of Home Recycling Service, which serves 125 households in Lawrence. "And I'm sure I could be a lot busier if I just did more marketing."
Jeff Joseph, owner of Jeff's Curbside Recycling, said he added more new customers in September than during any other month in the four years he's owned the business. He declined to release customer totals, but said the recycling movement was gaining strength.
"Recycling is just very important to a lot of people in this town," Joseph said. "I know there are 85-year-old people out there recycling when it is 10 degrees outside. It would be so much easier for them to just throw it in the trash, but they won't do it."
The new report found the city's recycling rate is increasing and is above the national average. Yoos said 34 percent of all the city's solid waste was recycled in 2003, up from 32 percent in 2002. The national average is 29 percent, Yoos said.
But the fact city residents already do a better-than-average job of recycling makes it more difficult to justify a curbside recycling program, Yoos said. He said a 1995 study commissioned by the city found that a curbside recycling program would increase the city's recycling rate by no more than 3.5 percent. He said despite its age, he was confident the study was still accurate.
Yoos is suggesting that the city boost its recycling efforts by adding more drop-off locations for cardboard and newspaper. He's estimating the city will add three new locations for newspapers and up to five for cardboard. Locations haven't been selected, but he said the department was looking to increase its presence in the eastern part of the city.
Yoos also said he was reluctant to recommend a curbside recycling program because it almost certainly would put all three privately owned companies out of business.
Representatives of the businesses, though, said they had mixed emotions about the report's findings. They said they were thankful they wouldn't face city competition, but thought the recycling movement could benefit from city involvement.
"Basically, I'm in this business because I think it is the right thing to do," Tuchscherer said. "I think everybody ought to be recycling, but I know that won't ever happen if the city doesn't require it."