Life vs. choice: the trash debate 

Manitou weighs greener garbage policy against free market

click to enlarge Today, numerous trash companies bring in bucks from - Manitou Springs. - J. ADRIAN STANLEY
  • J. Adrian Stanley
  • Today, numerous trash companies bring in bucks from Manitou Springs.

Lately, Teri Christman's mind has been filled with trash.

She notices garbage trucks around Manitou Springs. She hears them roaring down the quiet, winding streets at 4 a.m., grinding the asphalt of already-worn avenues, and she watches their pipes heave smoke as they haul their smelly loads.

And she thinks: I can make this better.

"The two things that I'm trying to fix," she says, "is that I want one garbage truck on each street every week, and I want one recycling service."

Christman says the solution is simple: Manitou Springs can bid out a contract for trash and recycling services. The city would divvy up its neighborhoods among garbage companies, or, preferably, be served by a single hauler. Either way, there would be fewer trucks, less pollution, less noise, less wear on streets and smaller bills for residents (think economies of scale). Plus, the city could require curbside recycling to all residents.

Christman has taken her plan to Manitou City Council, which is receptive.

"It's all a part of us continuing to work on our "renewable' initiative," says Mayor Eric Drummond, who is working with community members on ambitious plans to reduce carbon emissions.

Council has agreed to send letters to the three garbage companies operating in Manitou to solicit feedback. The companies hadn't received the letters as of early this week, but given a brief description, some seemed less than thrilled.

Joe Gonzalez, district manager for Waste Management, wants to review the plan. But, in general, he says, "We're more in favor of the open market."

His views are echoed by Dan Shrader, co-owner of Springs Waste Systems.Manitou is a big part of his business he says he purchased smaller trucks in 2000 specifically to navigate its narrow streets. Shrader says the business is competitive and he loses customers all the time. But he likes that it comes down to personal choice.

"If the city [bids out the contract], that would change that dynamic," he said.

Manitou wouldn't be the first to move away from free-market trash collection.

Doug Short, public works director for Lafayette (east of Boulder), implemented a similar program there nearly a year ago. Some garbage companies weren't happy. Some residents didn't want to part with their favorite trash company. One veteran went so far as to tell Short that he was insulting the men who died in Iraq for freedom of choice.

These days, Short isn't hearing many complaints.

"We've increased service, lowered the price and gotten rid of lots of local trash trucks," he says.

Lafayette residents now pay more if they produce more trash, but just $1 a month to recycle to their heart's content. Short says residents are recycling about 140 tons of materials a month. Lafayette, in turn, makes some money off recycling, which funnels back into the community.

In fact, Short says, some original naysayers have eaten their words.

"Afterwards, a lot of them called back and said, "Yeah, it's good, I like it,'" he says.

Christman's optimistic a new trash plan which still must make its way through the bureaucracy before coming to a vote would be as well-received in Manitou.

"I have not received any negative feedback at all," she says.


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