By Karen Gadbois, The Lens staff writer |

Is the city’s new recycling program putting the cart before the trash man’s horse?

With 50,000 carts for recycled trash already on order, City Council members on Thursday debated whether the 64-gallon size soon to be delivered is too big.

Also still up in the air: whether to extend the restored service to the French Quarter.

The city has been billing residents since January for a service that won’t begin until May. And Thursday’s meeting of the City Council’s Sanitation Committee included debate over whether requiring residents to “opt in” to the program, rather than including them automatically, would have an inhibiting effect.

Exhibit A during the discussion was a lineup of several carts for purposes of comparison. One was a 96-gallon behemoth, the type already distributed to residences throughout the city for collection of unrecyclable garbage. Next to it was the 64-gallon version, the size specified in the bidding process.

Councilmember Kristen Gisleson Palmer asked Sanitation Department Director Cynthia Sylvain Lear why the recycling carts had to be even that big.

The advent of a “single-stream process” – eliminating the need to separate different types of recyclables at curbside – justifies the larger cans, Sylvain Lear said. Residents can now recycle juice boxes, cereal boxes and even toothpaste caps, she noted.

Gisleson Palmer pressed on. “My family of five uses a smaller bin,” and we like being able to tuck it under the house, she said. She expressed concern that the opt-in program as well as the large-sized cans would deter participation.

Sylvain Lear said that her office is open to discussion about the size of the carts. The first 20,000 are due May 2, with the rest of the 50,000 scheduled for arrival in five-thousand cart increments. There may be some wiggle room on the size of the later deliveries, Sylvain Lear said.

Carol Allen, president of the Vieux Carre Property Owners and Residents Association, made the case for garbage bags, if the service is revived in the French Quarter, the one part of town currently excluded.  She said that the garbage carts are staying out on the sidewalk “24/7 and getting covered with graffiti.”

Sylvain Lear said her office would be open to discussing bags vs. carts in the Quarter but cautioned that other cities with recycling programs have recommended against using bags. They are harder to inspect, thus allowing more non-recyclables to reach the processor, she said.

Mayoral spokesman Ryan Berni confirmed that discussion is under way on whether to bring recycling back to the Quarter.

The opt-in approach to building the recycling program was defended as a way to overcome the disputes over house counts and costs that have flared up among haulers and the city.

The haulers will be able to bill the city only for residences that have signed up for the service.

Karen Gadbois

Karen Gadbois co-founded The Lens. She now covers New Orleans government issues and writes about land use. With television reporter Lee Zurik she exposed widespread misuse of city recovery funds and led...