You thought your trash day was a chore.
Lawrence city commissioners are inching closer to their own trash day as a city-appointed task force moves toward delivering recommendations on how to change the city’s trash and recycling services.
The Solid Waste Task Force isn’t expected to deliver a set of recommendations to city commissioners until sometime near Christmas, but that hasn’t stopped Lawrence residents from asking a host of nervous questions about how the most constant of weekly tasks — taking out the trash — may change.
Here’s a look at some of the questions and what’s known at this point, but there is a big caveat: None of this is a done deal. The city’s Solid Waste Task Force has indicated several ideas that it supports, but it hasn’t yet produced even a draft report. When it does, it won’t be more than a recommendation. City commissioners will have the final authority of authorizing any changes to the city’s trash or recycling systems. With that, here are some questions:
It sounds like there is strong interest in requiring residents to use a city-issued cart for their trash. Why?
Two reasons have emerged. One is worker safety. Mayor Aron Cromwell, who chairs the task force, has said that he’s confident the use of the carts makes the job of sanitation workers easier and safer. That’s because all of the city’s trash trucks are equipped with devices that hydraulically lift and dump a cart’s contents. The lifts don’t work with standard trash cans. Those are physically lifted and dumped by sanitation workers. Cromwell said workers compensation claims related to lifting injuries are significant in the sanitation department. In 2010, workers compensation costs for the Solid Waste Department were $340,000, according to a city memo.
Q: What’s the other reason? You said that two had emerged.
A: Oh yeah, I did. The second reason is carts would allow the city to start changing how it charges people for trash service. Currently, all residents pay the same amount for their trash service regardless of how much trash they take to the curb. That could change with carts. The task force hasn’t reached any conclusions on how to structure what is sometimes called a “variable rate pricing” or a “pay-as-you-throw” system. But discussions have indicated there could be several options. One scenario is the city might sell different-sized carts. A 65-gallon cart would cost one monthly rate, but if your trash needs require the use of a larger cart, a 95-gallon cart would cost a higher monthly rate. Or another system could be that if you can’t fit all of your trash in one cart, you could pay to have the right to place a certain number of trash bags out in addition to the cart. Some cities refer to this as a sticker system. The city gives you a certain number of stickers each year to place on trash bags. The stickers alert trash crews that the extra bags have been authorized by the city. Most systems allow additional stickers to be pre-purchased from the city.
Q: What about curbside recycling?
A: A majority of the task force, and especially the mayor, has expressed a strong interest in a system that would include mandatory curbside recycling. In other words, your monthly bill would include the cost of curbside recycling, whether you chose to use the service or not.
Q: When you say mandatory, does that mean I’ll get fined or something if I throw away an item that could be recycled?
A: No. There has been no discussion of that type of system, which is still relatively rare in the United States.
Q: Who would operate the curbside recycling service? There already are several private companies that offer the service in Lawrence. Would the city let a private company be the operator?
A: Perhaps. The task force hasn’t reached consensus on whether a curbside recycling service should be operated by a private company or by the city. But there has been a lot of discussion that the city ought to control the system either way — in other words, if the city goes the private route, the service would still show up on the city’s bill and the private company would be selected by the city to serve the entire community.
Q: How much is this going to cost?
A: The simple answer is the task force doesn’t have a firm estimate yet. Some of that will depend on whether it is publicly or privately operated and which items are accepted for recycling and which are excluded. But Cromwell said he is confident that any system will increase the monthly residential rates by less than $5, and probably closer to $3 per month.
“If the costs are too high, we’re not going to do it,” Cromwell said. “I won’t want to do it if the costs are too high, and nobody else will either.”
Q: Would the curbside recycling service accept glass?
A: Probably not. The city already has sent out a request for proposals from private companies to set up glass collection bins in the city. Ripple Glass of Kansas City has expressed an interest in setting up several bins in Lawrence. The glass would be used by the company to make fiberglass insulation.
Q: Why is the city pushing for curbside recycling? Don’t we already have a great recycling rate?
A: Actually, Lawrence doesn’t know what its recycling rate is. Even though the city is studying major changes to the trash system, the city hasn’t produced an annual recycling report since 2008. Tamara Bennett, assistant director of public works and the lead staff member for the Solid Waste Task Force, said that’s partially because a report by the city auditor questioned how the city was calculating its recycling rate, which historically has been one of the highest in the state at about 35 percent. The audit questioned whether the city was properly estimating the weight of yard waste, which is the largest component of the city’s recycling program. Bennett said the city is working on creating a new system for estimating yard waste, and plans to produce a new recycling report by mid-November.
Q: What did the 2008 recycling report say?
A: The report estimated that 30,314 tons of material were recycled through the city and private sector efforts in 2007, which gave the city a 35 percent recycling rate. Yard waste — such as grass clippings, leaves and brush — accounted for 44 percent of all material recycled in Lawrence.
Q: That report was done well before Deffenbaugh Industries started offering weekly curbside recycling for about $5 per month. Hasn’t that service caused the rate to go up significantly?
A: Again, the city doesn’t have the data to say one way or the other. But a spokesman with Deffenbaugh Industries did confirm that the company is providing service to about 4,200 Lawrence households. That’s about 15 percent of the city’s nearly 29,000 single-family residential accounts.
Q: What about apartment complexes and businesses? Are they going to be made to pay for curbside recycling? Will they have carts?
A: Bennett said those specific issues haven’t yet generated much discussion by the task force.
Q: Is it possible that residents may be required to have two carts — one for trash and one for recycling?
A: Yes, that has been discussed by the task force. It appears that very well could be the task force’s recommendation.
Q: Where am I going to put these carts? Is there a law against keeping them outside?
A: There is no city ordinance that would prohibit the trash and recycling carts from being kept outside. Cromwell said that is how he stores his carts currently. Cromwell said the issue of storage is a concern in almost every community that transitions to the carts. But he said residents quickly find it is more workable than they think. He said the city of Olathe actually created a service where city employees went to people’s garages — when asked — to give residents ideas on how their garages could be re-arranged to accommodate the carts.
Q: How big are these carts?
A: The city hasn’t decided on a specific cart, since the cart idea is still just a proposal. But carts likely would be either 65 gallon or 95 gallon in size. A 65-gallon cart is about 42 inches high, 25 inches wide and 27 inches deep. A 95-gallon cart is about 46 inches high, 29 inches wide and 33 inches deep, according to measurements from the city solid waste department.
Q: How much would these carts cost?
A: Since the carts would be mandatory for everyone, the costs likely would be just lumped in with your general monthly bill. But, of course, there will be an up-front cost to the city to buy the carts. The city has estimated it will cost about $1 million to purchase about 22,000 carts. (The city already has some carts.) The 22,000 carts, however, only would be enough to provide a cart for people’s trash service. How many more carts would be needed to provide for recycling service isn’t yet clear.
Q: What about elderly people or others who may have trouble moving such a large cart up and down their driveways?
A: Cromwell said the city is very much aware of that concern. But he said city trash crews already make accommodations for people who face that same situation with a trash can. He said it is not uncommon for trash crews to know which customers have difficulty and to make special accommodations. But Cromwell said he is hesitant to try to create a written policy that tries to spell out how the situation will work with carts.
“Right now we give our people the flexibility to do what is right,” Cromwell said. “They have proven they know how to do this, and we want them to continue to do it in the future.
“We understand how much the community appreciates the job we do currently, and we don’t want to do anything to jeopardize that.”