There may be a few Lawrence residents who are such conscientious composters and recyclers that they have no use for municipal trash collection, but for most of us, having someone pick up trash that we leave at the alley or curb is a basic city service.
That’s why anytime city officials consider making a significant change in that service, they need to be aware that they are affecting almost every taxpayer in the community and they are bound to be making someone unhappy.
Nonetheless, Lawrence city commissioners are once again preparing to dive into the trash debate. It seems simple enough: Send trucks and workers throughout the city, pick up the trash, take it to the dump. Unfortunately, a rising demand for recycling and rising costs for collecting and dumping trash have made this a much more complicated issue.
A new city report looks at three options for basic trash services. Two of those options would require residents to rent plastic trash carts that can be grabbed and emptied by robotic trucks operated by a single driver without helpers throwing trash into the truck. After the initial investment, that would save the city money, but it also would put city trash collectors out of a job.
It’s also a little trickier for a robotic arm to grab the trash. In fact, city officials believe that in some neighborhoods, it will be next to impossible if cars are parked along the curb. One option is to use the automated trucks everywhere in the city; another is to use them in most areas but use traditional trucks in areas where on-street parking is critical.
How would that be determined? Most residents who have more cars in their family than they have garage space probably thinks on-street parking is critical. Presumably, a no-parking rule would be enforced only on trash day, but letting trash pickups dictate no-parking zones seems like a questionable policy.
The report also looks at encouraging residents to reduce their trash by charging higher rent on larger trash containers. That is fair and would help promote recycling in the city.
Oh, yes, recycling. We haven’t even touched on the various options for having the city or a private contractor provide curbside recycling citywide. The problems associated with collecting and processing recyclable materials may argue for turning the whole effort over to a private contractor, but the city still is responsible for making sure residents are receiving an acceptable level of service at a reasonable price.
Who knew trash was so complicated? Taxpayers, of course, have an interest in this service being delivered in the most cost-effective manner possible, but they may question the need to change a service that already seems to be working pretty well.
Dealing with trash is a messy job. City commissioners aren’t wrong to tackle this problem, but it may not be so easy to come up with a solution that satisfies everyone.