The best trash plan for Wichita is to franchise trash collection. Doing so would dramatically reduce trash bills and significantly increase recycling.
But because that the Wichita City Council lacks the appetite for such a change, the proposed pay-as-you-throw plan likely is the best we can do politically. As such, the council should approve it at its meeting today.
If that doesn’t sound like an enthusiastic endorsement, it isn’t.
The plan developed by City Manager Robert Layton keeps the current system in which individual customers choose their own private trash haulers. What’s new is that it requires every hauler to offer two different sizes of trash containers and provide single-stream curbside recycling.
Pricing would still be up to each hauler, but the smaller trash containers likely would cost a little less than what is now charged for the bigger containers — perhaps $10 per quarter. This would be a benefit to households that don’t produce much trash.
The hope also is that more households would decide to recycle, particularly if it enabled them to switch to a smaller container for their trash.
The plan also calls for a city-sponsored, citizen-generated online list of companies’ prices and service options. That should help people find better deals and perhaps pressure some haulers to lower rates.
These are positive changes and worthy of support.
Still, it is disappointing that the plan doesn’t do more. If Wichita franchised its trash collection — like Derby or Park City or most other area towns (and like nearly every other city in the United States that doesn’t have a municipal trash service) — it could cut trash bills in half and provide recycling at no extra cost.
But franchising has never gained much traction in Wichita. The private haulers have fought it, fearing it could reduce their profits. And many citizens prefer picking their own trash hauler, even if it costs twice as much.
Layton met some of this resistance when he proposed a plan last year that would assign certain trash haulers to pick up all the trash in certain regions of the city, based on the size of the haulers’ current market shares. The plan was aimed at keeping the haulers happy, but it didn’t do much to lower costs. In fact, the price that Layton tentatively negotiated with the haulers was more than what many citizens currently pay.
So Layton’s second try narrowed the goals to helping people pay a little less if they don’t throw away much and encouraging more people to recycle — though they will still have to pay extra to do so.
These are small improvements to our dysfunctional trash system, but at least they are steps forward.