It’s hard to understand what the city is trying to accomplish by simply duplicating curbside recycling services already available through private firms.
City of Lawrence staff members are edging toward a municipal recycling service that makes no sense for taxpayers or residential recyclers.
Leaders in the city’s public works department reportedly are considering a pilot project that would allow up to 2,000 Lawrence homes to sign up for a city-run, every-other-week curbside recycling pickup. They told the city’s Sustainability Advisory Board that they saw the service as a way to break into recycling without forcing the existing private curbside recycling services out of business.
Perhaps not, but the service the city would be providing would be identical to the service that already is readily available through private businesses that don’t require taxpayer support — at about the same cost to customers. What is the point?
In discussing the proposal, members of the city staff and advisory board came up with a number of silly justifications. They said a city-run service would be more prominent, unlike the current services, which one board member viewed as “kind of invisible.” Having a city service also would make recycling seem more “normal,” said another board member, not “a freak-show hippie thing.”
All those people out there using private recycling services may be surprised to find themselves lumped into such an alternative lifestyle kind of category.
Encouraging more recycling in the city is a good goal, but there still seems to be no justification for the city to get involved in curbside pickup, certainly not in a system that simply duplicates the optional services already available. Several other ideas discussed by the sustainability board had varying degrees of merit. One bad idea was to simply require customers of private recyclers to use — presumably after purchasing — a specific recycling bin. The rationale is that the bin would be recognizable and act as a way to publicize recycling services in the city.
Another questionable idea is to have a franchise agreement with a single curbside recycler to provide service throughout the city. This would keep the business in private hands, while allowing the city some control over service provided, but why narrow the field to a single business?
The proposal that makes the most sense is to establish some kind of simple licensing process for private curbside recyclers. If the city could do this without placing an undue burden on the private firms, it would allow the city to provide some modest oversight over the businesses and how they dispose of the material they pick up. Although the city currently lists local private recyclers on its Web site, perhaps it would be more comfortable with giving the businesses additional publicity in utility bills and other venues, addressing the visibility concern.
Fortunately, the advisory board declined to endorse the public works plan. Creating a city service that simply duplicates existing services is wasteful and unlikely to cause a significant increase in the number of Lawrence residents who opt for curbside recycling. The city needs to go back to the drawing board.