City to gauge support for curbside recycling

Lawrence residents Debbie Galbraith and Joel Wasson make their way down the line depositing their recyclables Tuesday at the Wal-Mart Recycling Center, 3300 Iowa. The city of Lawrence offers many resources for those who wish to recycle.

Asking for answers

¢ See the full survey here (PDF)

¢ The city has contracted with Olathe-based ETC Institute to survey Lawrence residents about recycling and how much they’d be willing to pay the city to provide curbside recycling. About 400 households should receive mail surveys this month. Follow-up phone calls will be placed to people who don’t respond.

¢ Among the questions: How often, how and what do you recycle? If you don’t recycle, why not? How important is having curbside recycling available in Lawrence, and how often?

¢ The survey also will question residents about their willingness to pay for municipal curbside service – ranging from “very likely” to “not likely at all” – at four monthly price points: $6, $9, $12 or $15.

¢ Results will be expected in April, with a report to be delivered to Lawrence city commissioners for consideration.

Tammie Finney isn’t sure she’d be willing to pay more than a few dollars each month for the city to pick up her water bottles, soup cans, detergent containers and other discarded-but-recyclable materials at her curb.

But she wouldn’t mind being asked.

“I would pay it, but I wouldn’t do it blindly,” said Finney, who drops off recyclables twice a week at the Wal-Mart Recycling Center, 3300 Iowa. “I’m an analytical person. Organization and efficiency are so important to me on every level – I lead my life that way – that I’d need to know: What’s that going to cost me?”

She soon may get her chance to speak up.

City leaders are awaiting results of a survey to be conducted this month, one designed to gauge the community’s interest in launching a citywide curbside recycling program.

About 400 Lawrence residents will be asked to describe their attitudes about recycling, and then to say how likely they would be to spend another $6, $9, $12 or $15 a month for such a municipal service.

The city already accepts household hazardous waste, collects yard waste at the curb and offers drop-off locations for cardboard, mixed paper and newspaper. But curbside collections of plastics, aluminum, tin cans and other materials to be diverted from the landfill would be a new level of service.

For years the city’s Sustainability Advisory Board has considered curbside recycling to be its top priority – especially when looking at the matter environmentally. Meanwhile, the city’s Solid Waste Division has maintained that such a program would be a financial drain.

The survey, expected to be a statistically valid representation of the Lawrence population, will be looked upon to offer guidance for city commissioners, who would decide whether to spend the money and raise monthly utility bills to start the service.

“This is an effort to bridge that economic discussion with the values discussion,” said Tammy Bennett, assistant public works director.

Business is there

Chris Scafe, owner of Sunflower Curbside Recycling, knows the demand is there. He launched his business with 22 customers a few years ago, when Wal-Mart closed its community recycling center during a store expansion.

Today, with 362 customers citywide – “nearly one for every day of the year,” he boasts proudly – Scafe is considering buying another FedEx-style truck and hiring employees to help keep up with demand.

Now he expects to wait awhile, considering the city’s survey.

“If the city started doing it, I’d be out of business the first day,” said Scafe, who charges $16 for once-a-week collections, or $10 for once every two weeks. “But, you know what? For me, it’s all about recycling. If the city does it, that’s good. I’m in it for the environment, so if they want to do that and put me out of business, that’s fine.

“I just hope they’ll make me a part of it, somehow.”

Bob Yoos, manager of the city’s Solid Waste Division, certainly would plan to start hiring.

Starting a municipal curbside program would mean adding 16 more collection vehicles, hiring another 25 employees and building a sorting center to handle the recyclables.

Estimated costs: $5.6 million to start, plus another $2 million a year to keep it running.

Translation: add another $12 to each residential utility bill for once-a-week curbside collection of recyclables at single-family homes, plus duplexes and triplexes. Apartments, residence halls, senior centers such as Brandon Woods Retirement Community, and other congregate living residences would not have such service, under such estimates.

Cost considerations

Yoos said that communities typically opt for curbside recycling once disposal options either become too limited or cost too much. Disposal costs in Washington state, for example, typically run $200 to $300 a ton because of high transportation costs and other factors.

Lawrence’s landfill, located 6 miles north of City Hall, charges the city $19.15 a ton, and has enough capacity to continue accepting waste at its current pace for another 75 years.

“At some point it can become cheaper to recycle than to dispose,” Yoos said. “We’re not there yet.”

Jim Tuchscherer, owner of Home Recycling Service, figures that increasing awareness of “green” issues will continue to build support for recycling. He has 220 customers in Lawrence and another 700 in Topeka.

“People want it, but whether they’ll be willing to pay is another question,” said Tuchscherer, who charges $6 for once-a-month pickups. “No community – even the most environmentally friendly community – has ever mandated curbside recycling until their landfill is full.

“Until it gets more expensive to throw stuff away, people usually don’t get serious about it.”