City pleased with new numbers on curbside recycling program

Lawrence City Hall leaders are pleased with all the bottles, cans, boxes and other materials filling up the blue recycling carts that were distributed to households as part of the city’s new curbside recycling program.

A report from City Hall shows that more than 400 tons of recycled materials are being collected each month.

“It is going really, really well,” said Kathy Richardson, division manager for the city’s solid waste operations. “We’re pretty happy with the participation numbers, and we’re collecting a good amount of material.”

But just how big a boost the program will give the city’s overall recycling rate likely will take more time to determine. The program began in mid-October.

“I think it will be very interesting to see how this year goes,” Richardson said. “We’ll want to see if we’re just shifting how people recycle, or whether we’re collecting a lot of new material that wasn’t being recycled before.”

City officials are optimistic that the curbside program is creating new recyclers. One indication is that very few households have rejected the carts. The city delivered 27,000 carts to households in late 2014. Every household pays a $2.81 fee on utility bills regardless of whether they want the service. Although there is no way for a household to opt out of the monthly fee, households can decline to recycle and request that the city take back its cart. Richardson said her department expected about 1,000 to 2,000 households to return the carts. Instead, the return number has been closer to 300.

“We have not had much pushback at all,” Richardson said. “Most of what we hear is that they have been waiting for us to offer this service.”

Some facts and figures from the report:

• From mid-October through the end of 2014, the city collected 1,227 tons of material in the curbside recycling program. The city compared that number to the previous nine months of collections made by Deffenbaugh Industries, a Kansas City company that ran a private curbside service throughout the city. In those nine months, Deffenbaugh collected 1,300 tons. Richardson said the city is pleased that it was able to collect nearly as much recycling in three months as Deffenbaugh did in nine, but she noted that the city was collecting from a much larger base. Deffenbaugh, which charged $4.95 a month for recycling, had about 4,500 residential customers.

• Despite the curbside recycling efforts, the total amount of trash taken to the landfill increased from 2013 to 2014. The city hauled 61,556 tons of trash to the landfill last year, up from 61,051 tons in 2013. The amount of money the city paid in landfill fees increased to $1.66 million, up from $1.59 million.

• Low market prices for recycled materials meant the city did not receive much money for the materials collected through the curbside program. An agreement with Hamm Inc., which operates the recycling processing facility for the city, calls for Hamm to receive the bulk of the revenue from sales of recycled material, but the city gets a rebate when prices and volumes reach certain levels. For the two and a half months the program was operational in 2014, the city received $685 for the recycled materials. Richardson said the dollar amounts fell within staff expectations.

• The city paid Hamm $45 per ton to operate the recycling facility and $27.04 per ton to accept city trash at the landfill.

• The city continued to operate several drop-off locations where people could leave newspapers, mixed paper, office paper, cardboard and glass. The city collected about $175,000 by selling those materials, with the bulk of the revenue coming through cardboard sales. The city runs a program that collects cardboard from several businesses.

• Richardson said volume levels did not decline as much as expected at the drop-off locations, which the city will continue to operate for the time being. She said anyone can use them, including rural Douglas County residents, some of whom have expressed concern that recycling may become more difficult when the Wal-Mart on south Iowa Street closes its longtime recycling center at the end of the month.

• The city has completed installation of recycling containers at 20 public schools and five private schools. Deffenbaugh previously provided bins at the schools, but that service was discontinued when the city started its curbside program.

Richardson said staff members continue to explore the feasibility of a curbside recycling program for businesses. Richardson said she expects the department will deliver a proposal to city commissioners this year.

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