Editorial: Recycling plan worth pursuing

The city should implement a plan for commercial recycling but should cut fees to increase participation.

A commercial recycling pilot program is a smart idea that the city of Lawrence should pursue, though costs for the service should be adjusted prior to implementation.

The City Commission will review a commercial recycling business plan on Jan. 16. The city’s solid waste department developed the pilot plan for a single-stream commercial recycling service offered in two areas, downtown and south Lawrence. Businesses would be charged for the service, allowing the city to recoup its costs. The city contracts with the Hamm recycling facility for recycling service and is charged per ton of material.

There isn’t significant debate about whether such a service would be worthwhile. Single-stream recycling allows recyclable materials like paper, glass and plastic to be mixed together in the same bin and collected by a single truck. Because it’s easier to do since no separation is required, single-stream recycling normally results in greater participation.

“You’ve got a lot of glass, a lot of cans and bottles, cardboard,” said City Commissioner Matthew Herbert, who surveyed downtown dumpsters in preparation to discuss the issue. “Just based on what I saw looking through the dumpsters as we walked downtown, I think it’s safe to say almost the majority of the trash that’s generated by downtown businesses right now is recyclable.”

The biggest concern is getting participation at current costs. The pilot service will cost downtown businesses about $132 per month for service six days per week. Fees for south Lawrence — the pilot area is mostly on south Iowa Street and 23rd Street — would be about $44 per month for service two times per week. All businesses also will need to purchase a 95-gallon recycling cart.

“Businesses that run on a tight margin are really going to start to dissect that and see where they can get this to be more affordable,” said Rick Martin, a chef and co-owner of Limestone Pizza downtown. “I just don’t know any restaurant right now that has room in their fixed-cost budget to put $130 per month into a new service, unless it’s something that’s going to make them money.”

Martin already pays $20 per month for a private recycling service to collect materials twice per week. Lawrence-Douglas County Sustainability Director Eileen Horn said it is common for businesses to implement recycling programs using either private collection services or drop-off programs.

The current proposal can and should be altered before being implemented. The city might want to consider going with collection twice per week in both areas with a monthly cost closer to $44 per month.

Offering single-stream recycling for Lawrence businesses will benefit the community as a whole. But the program is only going to be successful if a broad number of businesses choose to participate. Adjusting service levels to lower the proposed monthly fees is the best way to make that happen.