A little-known state law will prevent Lawrence from starting a citywide curbside recycling program for at least two years.
Lawrence city commissioners at their meeting on Tuesday will be asked to start the process of gathering information on how much a citywide curbside program would cost. But staff members also are notifying commissioners a state law approved in 2011 will prohibit the city from starting a curbside recycling program before June 2014.
“It is very disappointing, and the wisdom of it seems pretty questionable to me,” said City Commissioner Aron Cromwell, who also spent more than a year leading the city’s Solid Waste Task Force.
The state law requires two public hearing periods that total 120 days before the city can adopt a formal plan to start a curbside recycling program. Once a plan is adopted, however, the state law prohibits the city from starting the service for another 18 months.
Cromwell said the 18-month waiting period is particularly problematic. He said the city likely will be seeking bids from private contractors to run the service. Contractors will be forced to give bids that predict what their costs will be 18 months in the future.
“I think the end result will be that we’ll have a bid that costs the people of Lawrence more than it should,” Cromwell said.
Sandra Jacquot, general counsel for the League of Kansas Municipalities, said the legislation emerged in 2011 as a compromise. Jacquot said several trash and recycling hauling companies were strongly lobbying for a law that would have required cities to essentially buy out private hauling companies anytime a city switched from an open market system to one controlled by the city. The 18-month waiting period is designed to give private companies time to transition, but Jacquot said the league unsuccessfully argued the waiting period was excessive.
The law applies to Lawrence because the city currently is served by about six privately-owned recycling companies. The city is contemplating creating a new system that would be controlled by the city but may be operated by a single private contractor.
Commissioners at their Tuesday meeting will start the process of determining whether they really want to create a curbside program. How much the program will add to the monthly water, sewer and trash bills of customers is expected to be a major factor.
“If it costs too much, none of us will be comfortable moving forward,” Cromwell said. “But looking at other communities, I’m pretty confident we’re going to see that it is feasible.”
Cromwell said he expects the service to cost somewhere between $3 and $6 per month for a household, but the city can’t be sure of the cost until it asks for proposals from private companies.
Commissioners will be asked to give staff members authority to put together a request for proposals that can be distributed later this year. Staff members have made several suggestions of what should be included in those proposals, largely following previous recommendations of the city’s Solid Waste Task Force.
Here’s a look at proposed details of a new service:
• The service would operate on the mandatory pay but voluntary participation model. Every residence in the city would have an as-yet-undetermined amount added to its monthly water, sewer and trash bill. But residences wouldn’t be required to put their recyclables in a recycling container. Residents still could throw such material away, but the city is betting many folks won’t if they are having to pay for the service anyway.
• Businesses would not be part of the program, as currently proposed. A staff memo notes that many businesses already have private contracts for recycling, and some count on revenue from selling recycled materials.
• Apartment complexes would be included in the program. As proposed, all apartment complexes would have some type of recycling bin that will be emptied by the city or its contractor.
• City staff members want to explore an option where a private company would run both the collection and processing of recycled materials. Staff members also want to explore an alternative where the city would run the collection of the materials but a private company would handle the processing. Under either scenario, the city would be responsible for billing and other administrative matters.
• The city is leaning toward a single-stream recycling option. Such a system would allow residents to throw all their recyclable materials into a single container. Materials expected to be accepted include: newsprint, mixed paper, office paper, corrugated containers, tin and steel cans; aluminum cans and plastics coded No. 1 through No. 7. But the city is making no promises on whether glass bottles and jars would be collected.
Commissioners meet at 6:35 p.m. on Tuesday at City Hall.