The work of the city’s Solid Waste Task Force isn’t done yet, but Lawrence Mayor Aron Cromwell senses an emerging theme.
“I think this really could be the very beginning of a new era of recycling in Lawrence,” Cromwell said.
If Cromwell’s sense is right, expect that new era to include mandated plastic trash carts and a much more aggressive curbside recycling program.
Cromwell said he thinks the task force is close to reaching consensus on requiring residents to use plastic trash carts that can be hooked up to hydraulic lifts on sanitation trucks, making the process quicker and safer for the city’s trash crews. But the carts would mean that residents wouldn’t be allowed to set out traditional trash cans or bags for pickup, except on special dates established by the city.
Cromwell also said the task force will have serious discussions in the next several weeks about a program that would require all city residents to pay for a curbside recycling program, regardless of whether they use it. Cromwell said one idea is that all city households would receive — and pay for — two plastic carts: one for trash and one for recyclable materials.
A key question, though, is whether city crews would pick up the curbside recycling or whether it would contract with a private company. Either way, Cromwell expects the city would handle the billing for the service.
“Really, this is the current state of how things are done in solid waste,” Cromwell said. “This wouldn’t put us on the forefront of what progressive communities are doing. It would just catch us up with what a lot of other communities already are doing.”
Whether it is what Lawrence will want to do, though, is an open question. The task force, which began meeting in April, won’t have the final say on the matter. City commissioners ultimately will be responsible for approving any changes to the city’s trash or recycling systems.
But other task force members said their report is likely to include a heavy emphasis on how to improve the city’s recycling services.
“It has been clear that there is tremendous potential to reduce the flow of waste to the landfill and convert that material into new products,” said Joe Harkins, a member of the city’s task force. “There is a clear sentiment to look very closely at how we can do that.”
Cromwell said if the issue gets derailed, it most likely will be because of cost concerns. A new system that included carts and a recycling program would require an increase in the city’s monthly trash rate. But Cromwell said he’s optimistic the increase would be reasonable.
Cromwell said some data have suggested that it would require an increase in trash rates of anywhere from $4 to $8 per month, but he said the task force still has more work to do firm up those estimates. Cromwell has said that even without changes to the system, he anticipates a rate increase in order to replace aging equipment and to shore up the service’s finances.
Currently, the city does not offer a curbside recycling program. But residents can contract with one of a number of private curbside recycling providers. Cromwell said there had been discussion about whether the city should leave that system well enough alone.
Cromwell said he’ll advocate for a change that requires everyone to pay for a curbside recycling service. He thinks that will produce a powerful incentive for more people to recycle.
“I thought I was a pretty good recycler before,” said Cromwell, who owns an environmental consulting firm. “But then I signed up for the Deffenbaugh program and realized I was recycling twice as much as I was before. When you can just throw it in a container and forget about it, it makes it so much easier.
“I’m confident people would find themselves recycling a lot more.”
The 11-member task force is expected to produce a draft report for the public to begin reviewing by the end of the year. City commissioners then would begin considering the report’s recommendations in 2012.