WEST ALLIS — Recycling carts that are about as big as the garbage carts that West Allis residents already use are due to start rolling to homes and small apartment buildings in June.

The 96-gallon carts will replace the blue plastic bags that people buy now for their recyclables. The carts will be free, but if they are damaged or something happens to them, the property owner will have to buy the next cart.

The city is moving to recycling carts, as many other communities have already done, to save money and to recycle more.

"It's important to save the resources of the earth as much as we reasonably can," said Michael Lewis, director of the department of public works. 

Pros and cons

While some have objected that they don't have room for another cart, city officials predict the vast majority of residents will like being able to put all the recyclables in together, instead of separating various kinds of recyclables. That includes not having to bundle cardboard anymore.

In addition, people who want to help the earth more than they do now will be able to recycle all plastics that are stamped with a number, Lewis said. Soon, West Allis will recycle all plastics from one through seven, he said. Now, the city recycles four of the seven. The additions will be significant.

"Recycling No. 3 is big. We see a lot of those containers," Lewis said.

But officials acknowledge that for some, space will be a significant problem.

"It will be an issue not having space for the cart," said Alderman Gary Barczak, chairman of the public works committee.

"We'll give it a trial and see if they have an issue with it," said Alderman Tom Lajsic, a public works committee member. For example, if an elderly widow who lives alone is overwhelmed by having to wheel the 96-gallon cart out to the curb, the city can make an accommodation, he said.

"We'll figure something out," Lajsic said.

Racine experience

But officials hope that the West Allis experience will be like Racine's, which has many cramped neighborhoods.

"Racine did the same thing and had very few requests for smaller carts," Lewis said. The 96 gallons go quickly when so many things can be recycled so easily, he said.

After a trial period of several months, West Allis will offer smaller carts.

The savings are expected to come in two ways. By making it easier to recycle, more people will recycle more, so less trash ends up being trucked to landfills where the city pays to dump each load, Lajsic said. The second way is that the city will be paid for the materials recycled, as long as the markets are high enough.

Guaranteed no cost

However, even if the bottom drops out of the market, the city just signed a contract with John's Disposal that guarantees the city will not have to pay to get rid of recyclables, Barczak said. The other bidder for the contract did not guarantee that, which is a main reason the city went with John's, he said.

"John's guaranteed a return and that we would never have to pay if the market would soften up," Barczak said.

Without that assurance he said, "We could be responsible for some big money."

City crews will continue to pick up recyclables, "So nobody loses jobs," Barczak said.

The city has set aside $1.1 million of the solid waste and recycling utility to buy nearly 20,000 carts. The utility was set up years ago and is funded through water bills. 

Arriving soon

The carts are due to arrive in homes June 19 through 30. City officials had expected the program to be up and running last winter, but there were delays. However, the common council last week approved contracts for both the carts and the recycler.

Even though city recycling trucks will have to take recyclables quite a distance to Muskego where the John's Disposal recycling plant is located, West Allis is still ahead, Barczak said.

The time it takes to get to Muskego will not be that much longer than trucking recyclables to a facility downtown, as would have been the destination with another potential hauler, he said. The numerous stoplights and downtown traffic and Brewers traffic on game days stretch that trip out, he said.

As for wear and tear on the recycling trucks, Barczak said, they have to be run at freeway speeds fairly often to clear their engines of buildups, anyway.

"John's is the best alternative at this time," he said.

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