There is a lot of talk about trash in Lawrence.
Community members are wondering whether they’ll be required to use special city-issued carts instead of their old trash cans. They are questioning whether their monthly trash bill should include a fee for curbside recycling services, whether or not they use such services. Questions also are swirling about whether the city’s popular yard waste collection service will continue as it does today or if changes are on tap.
The city’s volunteer Solid Waste Task Force should be congratulated for its work thus far. The members have been committed to exploring ways that the city’s trash and recycling services can be improved, and they plan to have further discussions making their recommendations at the end of the year.
The group, however, has not done much in the way of producing numbers — primarily how much some of these changes might cost. It is understandable that the group did not start with the cost question. It was appropriate to have some broad discussions about what the best system could look like regardless of cost.
But now it is time for the trash discussion to enter a new phase. It is critical that city leaders begin putting some cost estimates to potential changes to the city’s trash and recycling system. Those cost estimates should not be limited only to the recommended changes that come out of the task force. Cost estimates for other options also should be developed so that residents can make meaningful comparisons.
Among the options the city ought to develop cost estimates for are:
l once-per-week trash service, once-per-week curbside recycling service and once-per-week yard waste service (during the spring, summer and fall, as is currently done);
l once-per-week trash service, every-other-week curbside recycling service and every-other-week yard waste collection;
l once-per-week trash service, once-per-week curbside recycling and a subscription service that would allow residents to pay an extra fee if they want to use yard waste services;
l an estimate of how much rates likely will have to increase if the city makes no changes at all to its trash system. It is likely city rates would increase under a status quo scenario because landfill tipping fees are increasing and the city’s aging trash truck fleet will need replacing.
Estimates also should include how much the city might save in personnel costs by switching to automated trucks and how much curbside recycling could be expected to save the city in tipping fees. As the city develops these estimates, they should try to account for how much it will cost the city to provide these services versus what a private company would charge the city.
The trash discussion will be an important one, and probably an emotional one. Changing a weekly habit like how people put out their trash will produce a surprising amount of engagement from the public.
The best way to stem public criticism of whatever course they choose is for city officials to have a full set of numbers to help justify their decision.