Richland should consider private garbage service

By the Herald editorial staff

The city of Richland set off a firestorm of public feedback with the recent announcement of its new curbside recycling program.

Dissatisfied residents used letters to the editor and the comment function on tricityherald.com to voice their complaints.

We jumped on the bandwagon with an editorial summarizing much of the public criticism, and we featured the topic in our Sunday Forum section. And we gave Richland officials equal time. See their take at tinyurl.com/yd6f7vc.

Making the recycling program optional sparked much of the criticism, and it will cost anyone who wants to help reduce the flow of waste to Richland's landfill another $5.70 per month.

Most folks figured that when Richland got around to a curbside recycling program, it would be for all city customers and at one flat rate since Richland manages its own garbage collection.

To top it off, Richland's basic fee for garbage collection is going up March 1 to $16.90. Residents will get bins for lawn clippings as part of the package, and those who don't need one can opt out by filling out a form and save 80 cents per month.

But it's the additional recycling fee that's causing the most contention. Add to that the fact that Richland won't pick up glass because it says the glass has no value. And here we thought this was about doing the right thing for the environment.

That omission will leave a lot of well-intentioned folks still having to make a trip to the recycling drop-off centers around town. Or, they'll give up and dump glass in their garbage, sending it off to clog up the landfill, which is what the city says it wants to avoid.

The other Tri-Cities don't operate their own garbage collection services. They contract with companies to take care of it. The primary providers are Basin Disposal Inc. and Waste Management.

Once Richland did its analysis and decided to raise garbage rates, charge for lawn clipping collection, charge to use the landfill and create a fee-based curbside recycling program, it should have considered other solutions for a more comprehensive and user-friendly program.

A look at garbage collection and recycling programs in neighboring cities suggests private firms might offer significant savings over the city's in-house costs. A competitive bidding process could ensure Richland residents are getting the best deal possible.

Kennewick provides garbage collection and curbside recycling for residents at $13.88 per month. You can recycle all of the usual household waste forms, including glass.

In Pasco, a curbside recycling program has yet to begin. Garbage collection is $15 a month and you can put out extra bags and other items to be picked up as part of the regular service. A recent survey of Pasco residents shows a majority willing to pay up to $5 per month for curbside recycling.

Walla Walla has had curbside recycling for 14 years, putting most programs around here to shame. That city unveiled new containers in January that will hold all recyclables, rather than the old-fashioned open bins that had been used.

While glass isn't part of Walla Walla's program either, the city does offer collection sites for those empty wine bottles. With the new bin, the cost of the program -- contracted with Basin Disposal -- goes up 16 cents per month to $3.64 a month for recycling. The Walla Walla program is mandatory, so residents are charged whether they participate or not.

Clearly, Kennewick residents get the best deal with Waste Management's program. Sure, Waste Management is a giant company. But Richland has the exclusive ability to control its own costs because it operates its own garbage service.

Beyond being a way to divert waste from landfills, recycling is a philosophy. Richland's path to enlightenment for its recycling program ought to at least be on par with its neighbors.