November 1, 2012

Eagle editorial: Trash change is progress

Wichitans likely won’t notice that our city’s trash system officially changes Thursday. That’s because not a lot is changing.

Wichitans likely won’t notice that our city’s trash system officially changes Thursday. That’s because not a lot is changing.

Still, the modest improvements are welcome.

The Wichita City Council voted last year to require all trash haulers, effective Thursday, to offer curbside recycling and the choice of two sizes of trash containers. But it is still up to customers to decide whether to use these options. And instead of the city negotiating lower prices, the trash haulers continue to set their own rates.

As a result, many Wichitans still won’t recycle (because it likely costs extra), and most will continue to pay far more for their trash service than residents in neighboring cities that franchise their trash collection.

That said, it’s good that all citizens will now have recycling and pay-as-you-throw options.

City Manager Robert Layton initially proposed assigning certain trash haulers to pick up all the trash in certain regions of the city.

That was a promising idea that could have significantly lowered collection costs and reduced wear and tear on city streets. But the price that Layton suggested was more than some citizens currently pay, so the plan went nowhere.

Layton then proposed the new system, which is more modestly aimed at helping people pay a little less if they don’t throw away much and encouraging more people to recycle.

A key element of the new system is an online database that allows people to see how much others are paying for their trash service. This could be useful, though individuals have limited leverage to negotiate a better price, and the usefulness of the database depends on citizens entering information. (Go to the Public Works and Utilities section of wichita.gov, then click on the 2011 Solid Waste and Recycling Plan.)

The best trash solution is for Wichita to franchise 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). Doing so could cut trash bills in half and provide recycling at no extra cost.

But that hasn’t been politically viable, as the Wichita City Council lacks the stomach to challenge the trash haulers. And many citizens prefer to pick their own hauler – even if they end up paying more for trash services (and even though two national companies have about 80 percent of the Wichita market).

So the new system may be the best Wichita can do. And though it is not ideal, it is progress.

For the editorial board, Phillip Brownlee

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