QUINCY — It's hard for Alan VanDeBoe to consider that the Quincy recycling program he helped set up about 30 years ago may soon die.
VanDeBoe once was director of Quincy's Sanitation Department, and in 1989 he helped set up the garbage sticker program that was designed to make recycling a money-saving option for Quincy residents. VanDeBoe now is a real estate agent and gave members of the Quincy City Council some history on the recycling program last week.
"Garbage collections were funded by taxes. We started the sticker program to give people an incentive to recycle," VanDeBoe told Quincy City Council on Monday night.
By charging people for each trash bag they put out for collection, VanDeBoe said what appeared to be a free recycling program persuaded the vast majority of Quincyans to recycle in order to limit the cost of buying trash stickers for more bags. During the 1980s the city was still operating a landfill near Burton and wanted to avoid sending items to the landfill that could be recycled.
After last month's City Council vote to make recycling an opt-in program with $5 per month added to the utility bills of those recycling, VanDeBoe thinks there will be few participants.
"For all practical purposes, the program will die," VanDeBoe told aldermen.
During their meeting on Jan. 28, aldermen voted to change recycling from a free program starting May 1. Quincy residents would need to opt in to get new recycling bins of a different color and be assessed $5 per month for collection at the curb.
VanDeBoe said forcing residents to contact the city and ask to be charged on utility bills is a losing proposition. VanDeBoe believes there may be so few sign-ups that the city won't bring in enough money to cover the cost of recycling trucks and crews.
"If you're going to have to shut down the recycling program, don't put people through the hassle twice" by creating a program that will fail, VanDeBoe said.
He suggested that an opt-out program would be far less cumbersome than the opt-in program that's planned. Anyone who wants to drop their recycling collections would have to call or go online to make their wishes known.
Although aldermen listened to VanDeBoe's comments, there is no guarantee that they'll tweak the recycling plans.
The Herald-Whig news coverage about the launch of the recycling program is instructive. The city initially charged $3 per month for recycling, collected as part of the quarterly water-sewer utility bills.
Brady Wilson, who was Quincy's recycling manager from 1988 to 1994, said the participation level only hit about 40 percent during that early phase of recycling.
"Then when we implemented the sticker program our participation rate went to about 90 percent," Wilson said.
Quincy also didn't allow private trash haulers for residential customers during that time, although Wilson said some businesses contracted with private haulers.
In more recent years, Quincy has allowed private trash haulers to serve residential customers. City officials say they haven't found other communities that offer municipal trash service and allow private-sector competition.
Wilson now is director of the Rolla, Mo., Environmental Services Department. He's worked there for 20 years.
"Rolla's got a population of about 20,000. We just had a rate increase on Jan. 1," Wilson said.
Rolla charges $12.50 per month to pick up a 35-gallon tote, or $15.25 per month for 90-gallon carts. Wilson said those receptacles are provided by the city, and the garbage collection fee also covers recycling and yard waste collections. The city also conducts a free citywide cleanup each spring.
Another difference in Rolla involves the city's operation of its own recycling center and has recycling truck crews separate the items at the curb.
"Markets fluctuate, but if we look at it over five years we see that we brought in between $250,000 and $450,000 a year," Wilson said.
Quincy Recycle, a private business, once paid Quincy for recyclable materials. But in recent years the city pays to drop off what is collected by recycling trucks. A new contract with Quincy Recycle puts the cost at $95 per ton.
City officials say part of that cost involves unsorted and unsanitary items that cannot be sold on the recycling market. When recycling trucks are out of service, the city uses a trash truck to run routes, rendering most of those items unusable.
"That's why they're having to pay someone to take that mess off their hands," Wilson said.