We’ve talked and read about it for two years. It’s been heatedly discussed at Wichita City Council meetings and other public forums.
We’re talking trash.
That may not be a topic to chew on over breakfast, but the city’s new residential trash plan is upon us. Starting Thursday, haulers licensed to operate in the city must offer curbside recycling and pay-as-you-throw options. Neither was required previously.
Haulers and city officials figure there will be an adjustment period as residents sort out the best fit, but they don’t anticipate any major problems.
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“Most people don’t think about trash that much,” said Jim Spencer, local vice president for Waste Connections, which has the largest share of the Wichita market with 31,000 customers. “They put it out once a week. As long as it disappears by the time they come home from work, they’re fine.”
The new plan doesn’t require residents to change anything.
They can stick with what they have. But if they want to add curbside recycling or switch to a different size cart, they’ll have to initiate the change by calling their hauler. It’s also up to residents to negotiate prices and services with their hauler.
While other ideas were considered – including a cooperative that set a universal monthly rate of $20 – the City Council settled a year ago on a plan that it hopes will decrease the amount of trash going to landfills while keeping the free market open.
Haulers were given a year to get ready for the change and obtain smaller carts. The largest size containers are 90 or 95 gallons, which is what most people have now, and the smallest ones are 65 gallons.
Any questions residents have about what they can recycle, charges for extra bags and other fees are between them and their haulers.
To encourage competitive pricing, the city has established an interactive website that lets residents record their hauler, what they pay for trash service and the services offered. A link to the survey and database can be found on the home page of the city’s website, www.wichita.gov.
How much that database affects prices and services will be driven by residents’ participation in the survey.
“At a minimum it’ll allow residents to price compare,” City Manager Robert Layton said. “And that’s the whole idea, to open up the information for the market decision.”
The website is modeled after a similar one The Eagle did in late 2010. It gave readers a collective view of trash hauling prices across town, sparking a debate that showed many residents were getting better deals than the $20 monthly fee the city was considering at the time.
More than 700 readers responded to the survey and posted results that showed costs ranged from as low as $21 every three months to as high as $108 quarterly. The median quarterly bill was $54.62.
Complying with county plan
The idea of having a flat rate drew an outcry from residents. Those who threw away a bag or two of trash each week while their neighbor’s cart was overflowing were particularly incensed. Residents wanted to have a chance to negotiate their own deals with haulers or through a neighborhood association.
They quickly let Layton know they didn’t want the city to be involved in the pricing, period.
James Roseboro, president of Wichita Independent Neighborhoods, said the new plan hasn’t been a hot topic lately and he’s not sure what to expect.
“I’m halfway looking forward to it,” he said, adding that he likes the idea of the city’s interactive website. “Anything that’ll help the residents, I’m all for that.
“We’re sitting back and waiting to see how it goes. We’ll take action if it doesn’t work, but it’s hard to please everybody.”
Wichita changed trash plans in order to come closer to adhering to Sedgwick County’s solid waste management plan, which is updated yearly. The county plan says it “expects” all cities to contract for trash. It also says cities should include volume-based trash service and curbside recycling.
So Wichita’s new plan complies with two out of the three areas. While a majority of the county’s cities now contract for trash – or franchise with one hauler – it’s not part of Wichita’s plan.
Derby signed a contract with Waste Connections in 2009 to provide curbside recycling and provide a 95-gallon cart for $44.25 quarterly and a 65-gallon cart for $38.25.
The county also dropped a call for a ban on throwing away grass clippings from this year’s plan because it wanted to see how volume-base collection worked out in Wichita, said Susan Erlenwein, the county’s director of environmental resources.
Since most people using a 65-gallon container aren’t allowed to set out extra bags without paying additional charges, she said most of those with the smaller cart aren’t bagging their grass clippings. That was confirmed by doing a study of Derby residents in the summer of 2011, she said.
“They’re just letting them fall,” Erlenwein said.
Fourteen haulers are licensed to operate in the city. Their plans for adhering to the new requirements had to be approved by the city, said Rebecca Lewis, who oversees solid waste disposal for the city.
There has been some contraction and shuffling of licensed haulers since their numbers stood at 16 a year ago.
Waste Management bought Lies Trash Service, which was the city’s second-largest hauler, in early February. That pushed Waste Management up from a distant third in number of residential customers in Wichita to No. 2 behind the leader, Waste Connections. Between the two, they have about 80 percent of the market, with the rest being served by smaller haulers.
Sanitation Services started up in March after buying three companies – Haggard, Diamond and Esqueda’s. Haggard was then established under a new name, Ace Disposal. Best Value Services, which previously only did commercial hauling, stepped into the residential market in June.
The curbside recycling piece is single stream, meaning residents can put paper, cardboard, cans, plastic bottles and container glass in the bin. Hazardous and food wastes and most plastic bags won’t be accepted.
Last year, 7,000 to 8,000 tons of recyclable waste was collected curbside at Wichita homes, Lewis said. Almost all of that was picked up by Waste Connections and Waste Management.
Haulers seem to be cautiously optimistic about the new plan. One of their concerns is dealing with customers who want to switch size of carts regularly as they try to figure out how much trash they generate.
“Right now, we’re running light,” said Gilbert Ballinger of Ballinger Trash Service. He said the amount of trash his customers throw out will pick up around Christmas and tail off again before increasing again in the spring. “People forget what’s coming at them. It’ll smooth out, but it’s going to be troublesome for the first six months.”
Most haulers said they’ll have to limit the number of times they’ll switch out sizes of carts without adding a charge.
“People will have to work out what’s best for them,” said Mark Raccuglia of Sanitation Services. “The problem from the hauler’s end is there’s an expense of going back and forth (on cart sizes). We’ll probably limit them to one switch (without charging).”
Jerry McCray said the pay-as-you-throw part doesn’t affect what he does with his hauling company.
“Basically, it’s what I’ve been doing,” he said. “A lot of my customers are older and they don’t have much trash, so I’ve always charged them less.”
Offering recycling will be new for McCray, but he said he doubts if many of his customers will be interested in the service.
The plan includes a 10-year contract between the city and the haulers, so they have time to recapture costs of the new carts and perhaps a new truck to handle recycling, city officials said.
To help cover administrative costs, the city has tripled the amount to license each truck to $450. The fee had been set to double before the plan took effect because the city had been losing about $30,000 annually in administrating the trash service, which includes annual inspections of trucks, city officials said.
Licensed haulers are required to have a blue decal posted on both sides of the truck.