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City receives four proposals for citywide, curbside recycling program; officials hope to keep monthly costs below $5

Lawrence city officials haven’t forgotten about the idea of a curbside recycling program. A state law still is in place that stops the city from starting a new program prior to June 2014, but city officials have been spending a lot of time on the idea recently.

Sources tell me that a committee of city officials and a couple of members of the city’s Solid Waste Task Force spent seven hours last week listening to proposals from four companies or entities wanting to be involved in a proposed curbside recycling program in Lawrence.

City Manager David Corliss told me he was “cautiously optimistic” the proposals would produce a workable program for the city.

Corliss didn’t get into details, but another source told me that — at first glance — it appears the companies are putting together proposals that would offer weekly curbside recycling services at or below the $5 per month price point that some city officials have indicated would be acceptable.

But the details on this one will be important. For example, I haven’t heard whether the proposals included fuel escalator clauses, which would allow the monthly price to vary, depending on the price of diesel fuel.

“We want to make sure we completely understand all of the proposals before we make any recommendations,” Corliss said. “Each proposal has some interesting aspects.”

According to my source, the four entities that have submitted proposals are: Deffenbaugh Industries out of Kansas City; Waste Management, which is a major player in the Topeka market; Hamm Companies, which is the city’s current landfill provider; and a proposal put together by Lawrence’s own sanitation division.

Deffenbaugh and Waste Management are prepared to both collect and process the recycled materials. Hamm has proposed that the city would collect materials, but Hamm would build a new processing facility to handle the Lawrence materials. The city proposal calls for city crews to collect the materials, which then would be processed at a privately owned facility. Corliss confirmed the city is not proposing to build its own processing facility, which easily can be a multimillion-dollar project.

Under all of the proposals, the city would be responsible for handling the billing for the new service. The monthly amount would be added onto trash bills of city residents and businesses. As it is currently structured, every household would be required to pay for the service, whether they want it or not. City officials previously have said that is the way to ensure the service is delivered in the most efficient manner, and it helps the city boost its recycling rate, which has been a goal of all this.

City commissioners at their meeting on Tuesday will be taking a procedural step that keeps this process moving along. Commissioners are being asked to formally adopt a curbside recycling plan. But the plan is written in a pretty general way that doesn’t tie the city’s hands too much. Importantly, it also allows the city to back out of the idea, if it finds the project will cost too much.

Among details the plan does spell out are:

• Residents will be provided a special cart to set out recyclable materials. Residents won’t be required to do any sorting of materials. The plan doesn’t specify whether haulers have to accept glass. In the past, the city has said working glass into the program may be difficult.

• Where it is not feasible to provide a cart to a resident, such as people who live in apartment complexes, those residents will have access to “recycling stations,” which are cluster of recycling carts or Dumpsters.

• The city will consider plans that provide either weekly collection of recycling or every-other-week collection.

• A program should be designed with the goal of increasing the citywide recycling rate to 50 percent by 2020. The city has been changing how it figures its recycling rate, but previously the rate has been in the 30 percent range.

• A plan should be developed to minimize “displacement and economic impact to current recycling collectors.” There are about a half-dozen small, private companies that provide the service in Lawrence. The plan says the city will evaluate proposals, in part, on how well the city’s chosen provider works with those existing companies.

This is where the plan may get trickier than that pyramid of beer cans you have built in your garage waiting for the city to start a curbside program.

Jim Tuchscherer, owner of Home Recycling, said neither Deffenbaugh or Waste Management has contacted him about how his 13-year-old business might be incorporated into a citywide system.

The city of Lawrence has contacted Tuchscherer about its idea, but Tuchscherer hasn’t liked what he’s heard. Tuchscherer said the city is proposing that the recycling companies be allowed to keep their current customers but not be allowed to add new ones.

“I’ve told the city that I’m not opposed to increasing recycling, but I am opposed to the city voting to put me out of business,” Tuchscherer said.

Tuchscherer said he thinks the fair thing for the city to do would be to buy out his business and the other small recycling companies that operate in the city. I haven’t heard any serious talk of that happening, however, at City Hall.

Tuchscherer said he doesn't think the city will find a way to successfully incorporate the small companies into a citywide plan.

“I don’t think there is a workable option,” Tuchscherer said. “I’m sure Waste Management and Deffenbaugh have figured that out too.”

Assuming commissioners pass the plan at Tuesday’s meeting, the next big action step is expected in January, when commissioners will be presented summaries of the proposals presented by the four entities.

Commissioners meet at 6:35 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall.

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