Richland recycling policy disappointing step forward

By the Herald editorial staff

Richland finally has a curbside recycling program.

But it's a bit of a case of, "Be careful what you ask for." The new program and changes to garbage fees may leave some residents unsatisfied.

Richland operates its own utilities, and it may be the only city in the Mid-Columbia with an Environmental Education Office.

It seems natural for Richland to be a leader in recycling, because it not only boasts an environmental emphasis at city hall but also must dispose of its own wastes.

The city started its outreach program in 1996 to educate residents on basic environmental issues, but it's just getting around to curbside recycling in 2010. And what it's offering isn't all-encompassing.

For instance, you can't recycle glass in the new curbside program. You'll still have to haul your bottles to the drop-boxes scattered around town.

And there will be an additional fee of $5.70 a month for curbside recycling. It will be an opt-in, fee-based program, rather than mandatory and part of the monthly bill.

Instead of encouraging participation, the new policies may drive budget-conscious residents away.

In Kennewick, Waste Management picks up recyclables, including glass, set out on the curb for no additional charge.

In Walla Walla's new program, all recyclable items -- except glass -- can be dumped in one large container and wheeled to the curb for pickup. Yakima and other Valley towns have similar programs.

Simple is better. The more hurdles in the path to recycling, the less likely it is people will participate.

Richland residents will receive a yard waste container for grass and tree trimmings, but monthly service will rise from $14.97 to $16.90 a month. That hardly seems fair for the residents of the many condominiums in Richland who lack lawns to mow but still will have to pay for the increase in service.

And the city now will charge residents to use the dump. One of the best perks about living in Richland was the free and unlimited use of the dump.

Now residents will have to pay $10 per trip. Clean waste such as yard waste still can be dumped for free, but who will need that with the new yard waste container hauled away from your curbside every two weeks?

Other cities give their residents free vouchers to drop off wastes at neighborhood transfer stations. It makes sense. If you give people a free means of disposal for their junk, they may keep their homes and yards in better shape.

Don't get us wrong. Richland's plan does add some services, and it is better than nothing. Maybe the number of residents willing to pay extra for curbside recycling will prove us wrong.

But, frankly, we expected more from Richland. It has the infrastructure in place with its own garbage service and dump to manage recycling however it wants and make it easy for residents to be green.

Instead, the city created a two-tiered system for those who want to be efficient in their recycling, with some items taken at curbside and others having to go to drop-off site. At the same time, it is charging for a service that is in the city's best interest and taking away services that were once offered for free.

It will be late spring before most residents can give the program a whirl.

We hope that as the city delivers more information through its upcoming outreach campaign, the new policy's merits will also become clearer.