Archive for Thursday, September 8, 2005

City studies curbside recycling

Officials worry program wouldn’t be self-sufficient

September 8, 2005

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Jack Henry-Rhoads figures recycling is a lot like any other activity in life - the easier the better.

That's why Henry-Rhoads, a Lawrence resident and Kansas University student, wants city leaders to begin a curbside recycling program instead of relying on residents taking their recyclables to drop-box locations.

"It's just a matter of convenience," he said. "I know from my own experience, it is just kind of a hassle to get everything together and get to the other side of town and drop it off."

But leaders of the city's sanitation department say their studies show curbside recycling would increase the city's total recycling by less than 5 percent and that monthly trash bills would need to double.

"Our recommendation is that the costs are so high for such a relatively small benefit that it may not be worth it," said Bob Yoos, the city's solid waste manager.

Area programs

Curbside recycling supporters, though, don't point to studies. They point to area communities.

Olathe has offered curbside recycling since 1997. The program, which pays for itself, charges residents $2.50 per month, far less than the estimated $11 per month needed to fund a recycling program in Lawrence.

In July, Salina started a curbside recycling program that charges residents $4.90 per month. It, too, is designed to be self-supporting, meaning it would not require tax dollars to operate.


Employees at Deffenbaugh Industries, a private company specializing in trash and recycling collections, sort nonrecyclable trash on a conveyor belt. The Kansas City, Kan., recycling center has a system that automatically sorts the different recyclable materials after passing this first group of employees. Because the company's trucks can pick up mixed recyclables at curbside, the service is much cheaper for communities. Deffenbaugh uses its own trucks and crews to operate curbside recycling in several cities, including Shawnee, Prairie Village and Kansas City, Mo.

Employees at Deffenbaugh Industries, a private company specializing in trash and recycling collections, sort nonrecyclable trash on a conveyor belt. The Kansas City, Kan., recycling center has a system that automatically sorts the different recyclable materials after passing this first group of employees. Because the company's trucks can pick up mixed recyclables at curbside, the service is much cheaper for communities. Deffenbaugh uses its own trucks and crews to operate curbside recycling in several cities, including Shawnee, Prairie Village and Kansas City, Mo.

Kansas City, Mo., began a curbside program last year that allows residents to put out two bags of recycling per week for free. Each additional bag costs $1.

"I think it would be a really good idea for the city to have some sort of independent study to see why costs from other communities are significantly lower than the cost estimates we keep receiving," said Henry-Rhoads, who studied the issue as part of a 2004 Student Senate campaign that made curbside recycling a campaign plank.

But Yoos said there's a good reason why Lawrence's estimated costs come in higher than those of other communities. He said communities like Olathe, Salina and Kansas City, Mo., are all able to take their recyclables to existing, privately operated processing centers.

Yoos said that wouldn't be feasible in Lawrence because there is no private facility in the city big enough and because the Wal-Mart center wasn't designed to accommodate a string of city trash trucks dumping at its site.

Yoos estimated that to buy land and build a city-owned collection facility would cost $5 million. He said that cost is a big reason why a Lawrence system would have to charge a higher monthly fee than other communities.

Successes and failures

Not everyone is convinced. Olathe is an example of a city that doesn't have a private recycling center but still operates a low-cost, once-per-week curbside recycling program. Olathe's city crews transport their recyclables to a center in Kansas City, Kan., that is operated by Deffenbaugh Industries, a private company specializing in trash and recycling collections. Kent Seyfried, Olathe's solid waste manager, said city crews trucked the material about 20 miles one-way each day. Despite the drive time it caused, Seyfried said the center was a key reason the city was able to keep its monthly fee at $2.50 per month.

Officials at Deffenbaugh - which uses its own trucks and crews to operate curbside recycling in several cities, including Shawnee, Prairie Village and Kansas City, Mo. - said they would gladly talk with Lawrence about working out a deal for the city to drop off recyclables at their center.

Yoos said he's considered such an option but said he thought it wouldn't result in much savings because it would require more trucks and increase the city's fuel costs.

"Those trucks we drive don't get great fuel mileage, and that's a pretty big consideration these days," Yoos said.

The Deffenbaugh facility is about 30 miles from the eastern edge of Lawrence.

Besides, Yoos said, the Olathe program illustrated one of the concerns that he has about starting a curbside recycling program - it does little to increase the total amount of material being recycled in a community.

Yoos said one of his fears about a curbside recycling program was that it primarily would serve people who are recycling today by taking their goods to a drop-off center. That essentially would mean the city would be collecting recyclables for people who previously were willing to drive it to a location themselves.

Seyfried, the Olathe official, said there was evidence that was what had happened in his community since the program began in 1997.

"Our drop-off business dropped off big time," Seyfried said. "Really, what we're doing now is probably just more about providing the convenience of collection. We don't have any evidence that it has really increased the total numbers."

He said a 1995 study commissioned by the city estimated between a 3 percent to 5 percent increase in the amount of recycled materials collected in the city with a curbside program.

But some communities are reporting improvements in their overall recycling habits. In Salina, which began its program in July, leaders said a recent survey found that 27 percent of the users of the curbside program had never before been recyclers. The Salina program, though, has a different type of problem. It is not yet self-supporting.

Salina officials need 900 households - which pay $4.90 per month - to sign up for the program before it is self-sufficient. Thus far, 753 households have signed up, and the number is growing slowly, said Mike Fraser, director of general services for Salina.

"But I think, without a doubt, it is a success (from a recycling standpoint,) but whether we get it to a point that it is self-supporting, I don't know," Fraser said.

Private options

Lawrence officials have one other argument they make for staying out of the curbside recycling business. Yoos said the city already is well-served by the private industry. The city currently has five, small private companies that offer curbside recycling. Their fees typically vary from $5 per month for once per month service to $15 per month for weekly service.

"Anybody who wants curbside recycling can have it already," Yoos said. "It is there. That is what puzzles me. If there is really such a big unmet demand for this, why haven't the private haulers been swamped?"

Yoos estimated that the five private haulers serve less than 2,000 households, or less than 10 percent, of households in Lawrence.

Traci Trent, co-owner of Lawrence-based Tree Hugger Recycling, agreed with Yoos' estimate. She also agreed the city should stay out of the curbside recycling business.

"Unless there is a lot of problems with the private haulers, I don't think there is a lot of reason to change," Trent said.

But curbside proponents say that a city-run system that would require every household to pay for the service would likely cause new people to recycle. Yoos said proponents don't have the data to back that claim up and said Lawrence already has the highest recycling rate in the state at 34 percent, higher than communities with curbside programs.

Henry-Rhoads, though, said that argument might be a sign that city leaders still don't get the argument. He said city leaders shouldn't focus on Lawrence's already high rate but whether it could be higher.

"I think Lawrence is a unique community in terms of the values that it has," Henry-Rhoads said. "This is the kind of city that recycling can happen at a rate significantly higher than the averages."

Comments

Richard Heckler 9 years, 8 months ago

We use CLO,Community Living Organization for weekly pick-up at $15.00 per month. It would be good if Deffenbaugh could be brought into the process if nothing else to pick up what local services are collecting. This would help insure that all materials collected are being processed correctly.

Having Deffenbaugh pick up materials might be affordable because sorting at point of pickup is eliminated.

akuna 9 years, 8 months ago

Here is what I am hearing:

"Yoos said one of his fears about a curbside recycling program was that it primarily would serve people who are recycling today by taking their goods to a drop-off center. That essentially would mean the city would be collecting recyclables for people who previously were willing to drive it to a location themselves. . . Yoos said . . . Lawrence already has the highest recycling rate in the state at 34 percent, higher than communities with curbside programs."

This means that there is an automatic 34% buy-in rate. I am sure that number will increase some as some for the convience of curbside recycling is too great. With this high buy-in rate, it seems like a good idea to try a city wide curbside recyling program out. I for one would love curbside recycling.

christie 9 years, 8 months ago

Just do it.

If you go to Walmart and look at all the cars coming in, they're all Toyota, Honda, VW, etc. I've never seen a Ford Bronco or a Hummer down there. People who waste resources have got to get a clue.

Remember this: If you're not recycling you're just throwing it all away.

If enough people sign up, and I'm sure tons of people will, I don't see why this can't be at least a break-even proposition. This is LAWRENCE, we should lead, not follow Salina.

dex 9 years, 8 months ago

how's this for a study: how much additional energy will be required to maintain a weekly door-to-door curbside recycling program? how many additional tons of fossil fuels will be burned every year?

or am i, once again, missing the point? is the point of curbside recycling more about finding the easiest way to ease your guilty conscience resulting living a life of luxury than it is about truly helping the environment?

jenlynn 9 years, 8 months ago

First of all, I think there's an inaccuracy in this article. Kansas City, Missouri's program allows you two bags of TRASH, not 2 bags of recycling. (The town of 1300 my parents live in has a similar program and they are recycling fiends!) By limiting the amount of trash you can put out, you encourage more people to recycle. Secondly, if private contractors are offering curbside recycling at $15/week, why not have the city do it at $11/week? It's cheaper for the consumer, and thereby more appealing. And thirdly, Wal-mart's recycling center is currently in the middle of a construction zone, which doesn't give one much incentive to recycle.

dex 9 years, 8 months ago

jenlynn: since when is it the business of city government to undercut private enterprise, perhaps ruining private investments and putting people out of business? should we really use tax dollars for this purpose?

but you're idea of limiting trash is probably the best way to not only encourage recycling (dubious environmental benefits) but also to discourage waste (obvious environmental benefits).

and cheers to wal mart, the big business lawrence loves to hate, for even offering a free recylcing service in the first place.

akuna 9 years, 8 months ago

If we really got down to the root of the problem, I think we would find that waste management and recycling are fine at what they do and that the real problem is the over packaging. If companies became responsible about the amount of packaging that goes into a product, we would see a lot less waste and need to recycle.

Oh and Dex, you are missing the point a bit because you failed to remember that in order to recycle every household has to drive their recyclables to their recycling center of choice. So I think it is a wash between the city picking up our recyclables and us having to take them ourselves.

dex 9 years, 8 months ago

yes but right now something like 30% of lawrence residents recycle? and if many of those 30% were like me, they wait to haul the recyclables until they were heading to walmart anyway, resulting in almost a 0% increase in fossil fuel consumption. now, switch to door-to-door recycling where maybe 40% of people will recyle, but now we're driving to every household regardless and we're driving to every household that did recycle more often than most of them traveled to the recycling center in the first place. i would eat my own trash if somebody could show that a door-to-door recycling program won't increase fossil-fuel consumption.

the root of the problem is not the manufacturers, it's the consumers who don't spend the extra dime for products packaged in low-waste packaging (e.g. the folgers in the vacuum foil instead of the big plastic tubs). by making trash disposal expensive (limiting to two bags a week, lets say) then people will have the incentive to spend a little extra to buy the products that are well packaged (little or recyclable packaging). big business will follow because, surprise!, big business is big because they produce what consumers are willing to buy.

stop shifting the responsibility away from your lazy ass.

yourworstnightmare 9 years, 8 months ago

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