Lawrence residents want curbside trash recycling. The question is how much they are willing to pay for it.
Survey results released by the city last week should offer some useful guidance about whether the city should move forward on curbside recycling. The fact that 73 percent of respondents said they currently recycle indicates strong local interest, but the number seems implausibly high unless you count everyone who throws an aluminum can in a recycling bin.
The real test here, of course, is who is willing to pay - and how much - for the city to pick up and process recyclable trash. Predictably, the number of people who want the city to offer a curbside recycling service goes down as the fee they would have to pay goes up. Fifty-eight percent said the city should start a curbside recycling program, but only 49 percent said they were likely to pay $6 per month for such a service. At $9 per month, that number goes down to 21 percent, and at $12 a month drops to 10 percent.
Although the survey offered options, a city service almost certainly would give local residents no choice and simply attach a flat fee to everyone's refuse bill whether they used the recycling service or not.
The fact is, that at $12 or even $6 per month, everyone in Lawrence already can pay a private curbside recycling service for one or more pickups per month. So those who are willing to pay already have options.
The other aspect for the city, however, is how much more trash it could divert from the municipal landfill by operating its own curbside recycling. It's true that if Lawrence residents were required to pay for recycling whether they used it or not, more people probably would use it. That would mean less recyclable trash going to the landfill, but would those savings plus the additional fees cover the costs of the new program?
It's great to be environmentally conscious, but it seems that the last thing the city of Lawrence needs right now is another city service that doesn't pay for itself - especially when that service is readily available through private businesses in the community.
Even city leaders expressed mixed reactions to the survey results. That should tell them something. Until there is a clear indication that curbside recycling has a reasonable chance of breaking even for the city, it's a service that probably is better handled by private operators.