If you regularly set out a lot of trash at the curb, you should be charged more for trash service than your neighbor who normally doesn’t set out much trash.
The city’s Solid Waste Task Force agreed Wednesday that the Lawrence City Commission ought to adopt that principle when it discusses overhauling the city’s trash service next year.
The city-appointed advisory board also agreed to study how Boise, Idaho, and Gainesville, Fla., have implemented such “pay as you throw” systems in order to give local leaders some ideas on what may work in Lawrence.
“I think this is something we really have to look at,” said Daniel Poull, a member of the task force. “We have seen a lot of evidence that we can increase our recycling rate by implementing variable rate pricing.”
The task force also drove home one other point on Wednesday: Residents who are eager to find out how much all of this will cost need to be patient. The task force isn’t going to try to guess on prices. Instead, the group is advocating that the city go out for bid — getting prices from private companies and the city’s own solid waste division — once the city knows exactly what type of trash and curbside recycling system it wants.
“Our recommendation should be for the City Commission to put it out for bid and see what the prices are,” said Mayor Aron Cromwell, who is chairman of the task force. “If it comes back that we have to increase rates by $8 a month or something like that, there is no way I could support that, and I don’t think any other commissioners would either.”
The city currently charges about $15 a month for its trash service, which does not include any type of curbside recycling service. Cromwell said Wednesday that he believes any new system that would include curbside recycling would be at or below $20 per month.
But with the idea of “variable rate pricing systems,” different residents could be charged different rates depending on what type of trash generator they are. The task force showed no interest in weighing the amount of trash people set out, but they were interested in how both Boise and Gainesville charge their residents.
In Boise, all residents receive a 96-gallon plastic trash cart and pay $13.80 a month for service that includes both regular trash service and curbside recycling service. If a household can get by with one of the city’s smaller carts, the monthly bill is reduced by $1. If a household chooses not to participate in the curbside recycling program, its monthly bill is increased by $4. Boise officials estimate about 96 percent of households use the curbside recycling program.
If a household occasionally has more trash than it can fit into a 96-gallon container, each household is given five stickers that can be placed on trash bags that can be set out at the curb. If a trash bag has a sticker, it will be picked up. If it doesn’t have a sticker, it won’t. Residents also can buy additional stickers.
The city also controls its costs by using trucks that are much more automated than the ones used in Lawrence. Most of Boise’s trucks use a one-person crew instead of the three-person crews often used in Lawrence.
In Gainesville, residents pay anywhere from about $15 per month to $30 per month depending on what size of cart a household chooses to use. If a household has more trash than it can fit into its cart, it can buy five specially-marked trash bags for $11.25. Gainesville’s system includes a curbside recycling program that is included in all household rates.
Gainesville also primarily operates with a fleet of trucks that operates with a one-person crew instead of a three-person crew.
The task force plans to discuss both systems in more detail at its Dec. 12 meeting. Not all task force members are on board with the idea of the variable pricing system. Two of the 10 members voted against the recommendation.
“I’m just not convinced that it is workable,” said Christine Tomlin, a task force member. “I’m not convinced that my neighbors aren’t going to have bags of garbage piled up in their backyards.”
City commissioners ultimately will make any final determination about changes to the city’s trash system. A date hasn’t been set for commissioners to begin their debate on the subject, but the task force is expected to work at least through January.