Many Lawrence residents already have shown that they are willing to pay something for the service of having recyclable materials collected at their homes.
That doesn't necessarily mean, however, that city government should get into the curbside recycling business. Lawrence already has numerous recycling options that cost residents nothing. For those who want curbside recycling, a number of private companies offer a variety of options at prices that the city almost certainly won't be able to match.
City officials are conducting a survey this month in which they will ask about 400 residents to describe their attitudes toward recycling and asking them if they would be willing to spend from $6 to $15 a month to provide a municipal curbside recycling service. The question the survey should help answer is: Although many local residents say they want curbside recycling, are they willing to pay for it?
It would not be an inexpensive service. City officials say that curbside recycling would require the addition of 16 collection vehicles and about 25 city employees. It would cost an estimated $5.6 million to start such a program plus another $2 million a year to keep it running. That translates into an additional $12 a month on residential utility bills to provide weekly curbside recycling pickups.
Everyone would pay that fee, but not everyone would use the service. Why not let private enterprise continue to do this job?
The city's Web site lists five private firms that let Lawrence customers tailor the frequency and cost of their curbside recycling service to their individual needs. Those who can make due with one pickup a month can get that service for $6 a month. Those that need a pickup every other week can get that for $10 a month. A weekly pickup may be slightly more than the estimated $12 a month that would be added to city utility bills, but most people simply don't have that much to recycle.
For that matter, most people can drop off recyclable cardboard, newspaper and mixed paper on their way to the grocery store, which may also offer to recycle plastic grocery bags, at NO cost. Glass, plastic and other materials can be dropped off for free at a few local recycling centers.
The city may realize a small savings by reducing the amount of trash it takes to the landfill, but the current low landfill fees would make the savings minimal. Curbside recycling is primarily a matter of convenience, but that convenience already is readily available for anyone in Lawrence who wants to pay a nominal fee to take advantage of it.
It will be interesting to see the results of the current city survey on recycling, but those who want a municipal curbside recycling program should be careful what they wish for. Private enterprises already offer a variety of curbside recycling choices - including the choice to opt out and pay nothing - that a one-size-fits-all government service simply couldn't match.