Sedgwick County lets yard waste stay in trash

Grass clippings again got a reprieve from Sedgwick County commissioners, who voted Wednesday not to ban them from trash for now.

That means people can continue to bag up grass and leave yard waste with the rest of their trash.

Susan Erlenwein, director of the county's department of environmental services, told commissioners it's likely people will rethink throwing out yard waste — often the heaviest part of their garbage — when cities start franchising trash service.

The county expects all cities to contract or franchise trash service by 2011. As part of that change, the county will require curbside recycling and rates based on how much trash people throw out, also known as volume-based trash rates.

The county's thinking on a grass ban is "why should we be restrictive and ban something when the economy might take care of it?" Erlenwein said Wednesday.

The county will monitor yard waste after volume-based trash rates go into effect to see whether a ban is necessary, she said.

A yearlong study the county completed this fall — by the indelicate task of sorting through trash at the two transfer stations — showed that yard waste made up 17.1 percent of trash compared with 12.5 percent a decade ago.

Of the yard waste, grass clippings accounted for 7.1 percent in the most recent study and 5.6 percent in the 1997-98 study.

Commissioners voted unanimously not to ban grass clippings.

"It might take care of itself with volume-based trash," board member Dave Unruh said after the meeting. "I'd rather not pass a resolution making something mandatory if it happens naturally. If we owned the landfill, we probably would be more aggressive about this."

Waste Connections owns the landfill.

Longtime recycling activists Paul and Margaret Miller of ProKansas Miller Recycling Center aren't surprised county commissioners put off the ban.

"Oh, they postpone it every time," Paul Miller said.

"I'm a great believer in composting.... We ought to join the rest of the civilized world instead of being 10 to 20 years behind it."

Margaret Miller added that grass clippings are "such good material that it should be composted and used as fertilizer anywhere and everywhere."

Composting is letting grass clippings and leaves decompose into nutrients that can be used in gardening and landscaping.

So far, Derby is the only city in the county to begin volume-based trash service, Erlenwein said. It began its service Dec. 1.

The change to volume-based rates will make trash bills higher for some people — likely larger families — and lower for others — such as senior citizens and single people.

Going to volume-based trash service will be an expense initially for haulers, said David Lies, vice president of Lies Trash Service.

Lies customers now have 96-gallon carts, he said. The company would have to buy smaller — likely 65-gallon — carts.

"That's what most people would go to in a cart size," he said.

Haulers would have to make rules about how often customers could switch cart sizes, Lies said.

"You couldn't switch your cart out every three months," he said.

People who recycle and mulch yard waste would likely be the ones to see a reduction in rates, he said.