Westminster is talking trash, recycling

Column by Bill Christopher
Posted 2/7/17

The Westminster City Council has been talking trash for almost a year now, but it isn't the sport's version of talking trash. They are literally talking trash hauling, recycling and related …

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Westminster is talking trash, recycling

Posted

The Westminster City Council has been talking trash for almost a year now, but it isn't the sport's version of talking trash. They are literally talking trash hauling, recycling and related topics.

A key focus for some council members is to increase curbside recycling among single-family households. According to the below-mentioned survey, about 50 percent of survey respondents currently recycle eligible materials. In February 2016, staff outlined five models pertaining to residential community recycling for city council's consideration. Subsequently, the council focused on contracting with a single hauler or dividing the city into districts.

Bids from trash haulers have been solicited and will be reviewed at the Feb. 13 post-city council meeting. (Remember, at post meetings or study sessions, the public may attend but not voice opinions or ask questions. You can do so during the formal council meeting under "citizen comments" for 5 minutes max.)

A lot of moving parts

An outside consultant conducted a detailed random survey of Westminster single-family homeowners in 2016 to gain insight on this topic. As you can imagine, there are numerous aspects and policies that can come into play when assessing trash hauling and recycling operations. Fee structure, frequency of service, size of containers and who provides them, who provides the pickup service and what can be put in the trash are some of the variables. The 2016 Citizen Survey results on supporting curbside recycling spurred council members' desire to have further research conducted on this overall topic. Staff provided neighboring cities rates, type of city involvement in trash hauling/recycling operations and pickup of organics. Methodology of determining charges for trash hauling, i.e. Save as You Throw concept, and options for a community outreach were also covered.

Key goals

Key goals in the discussion when considering different scenarios involving trash hauling and recycling of materials focus on (1) reducing the wear and tear on city streets and (2) boosting the number of households that recycle. Some city councilors believe more households should be incentivized to practice recycling to reduce the waste stream that goes to landfills. Identified options to achieve these goals center on (1) fewer trash haulers driving the neighborhoods to pick up trash (2) reducing the cost of recycling to households and (3) encouraging more households to practice extensive recycling.

Survey results were mixed

In the June 2016 survey, 3,050 surveys were sent requesting citizen participation. The target group was from approximately 29,000 single-family dwellings. Multi-family would be excluded from any trash hauling option implemented by the city. A total of 329 responses were received with 285 providing a complete response.

The completed surveys represent a 9.3 percent response of those who received a survey. Another way to interpret the survey-response level, as far as gauging Westminster citizens' attitudes, is the results represent less than 1 percent among the total field of approximately 29,000 households. So, keep that fact in perspective when you read the following survey results.

The question was "Which of the following program and operational changes for the City's solid waste management would you support?"

The results showed 59 percent strongly or somewhat supported the one hauler chosen by the city that potentially lowers your monthly fee, 20 percent remained neutral or didn't know and 21 percent were either strongly or somewhat opposed.

The number of participants with their mixed responses warrants further consideration. The responses do not show a compelling desire to implement city council's idea. You can't say "59 percent of single family dwellers in Westminster support a single trash hauler approach."

Further thought

Trash handling (which includes recyclable items) can be a sensitive and ticklish subject with people. That has clearly been observed via citizen feedback. While the idea of increasing the quantity of recyclable materials and reducing the waste stream is a worthy cause, the council needs to carefully weigh the impacts of the city dictating to residents which trash hauler/recycler they would be assigned and under what conditions/terms they would be required to follow.

The assumption that lower fees would cause a significant increase in recycling participants is debatable. Before reaching a final conclusion, the city council should carefully weigh the importance of getting in the thorny thicket of free enterprise and creating a monopoly.

Finally, a lot of the comments center around different haulers picking up trash on different days of the week, which result in a lot of visual clutter throughout the week. A simple solution to that issue would be for city council to mandate via ordinance only one to two specific days of the week when haulers could pick up trash/recyclables in residential areas. Pretty simple!!!

Bill Christopher is a former Westminster city manager and RTD board member. His opinions are not necessarily those of Colorado Community Media.

Bill Christopher

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