Published Date Written by Michael KitchLACONIA — The City Council intends to overhaul the collection of solid waste and recyclable materials at the curbside in the next fiscal year, which begins on July 1, but has yet to choose from among several options City Manager Scott Myers presented to its Public Works Committee last night.
Relying on a memorandum prepared by Ann Saltmarsh of the Department of Public Works (DPW), Myers outlined four proposals, all designed to reduce the cost of collecting, transporting and disposing of solid waste by more than doubling the volume of recycling to at least 30-percent of the waste stream.
Currently the city spends approximately $1,450,000 to dispose of solid waste and collect recyclable material, of which $924,000 is funded by property taxes. Every ton taken out of the waste stream and recycled reduces the cost of collecting, transporting and disposing of solid waste, which is funded by property taxes, by more than $150-per-ton.
Although a "Pay-As-You-Throw" (PAYT) program offered the most significant savings by far, Councilors Brenda Baer (Ward 4) and Armand Bolduc (Ward 5) appeared to favor a species of "mandatory recycling." Only Councilor Matt Lahey (Ward 2) preferred PAYT, remarking that his daughter lives in Concord where it was introduced several years ago and appears to be working well.
"We're not Concord," Baer sniffed at that observation.
One plan called for collecting recyclables weekly throughout the year while collecting trash every other week from September through April and weekly from May to September. Saltmarsh doubted that more frequent collection would significantly increase recycling. At the same time, she warned that if trash were collected only every other week, it would likely accumulate at the curb in amounts exceeding the limits set by city ordinance. The DPW would ultimately be compelled to remove the trash at additional expense.
Myers agreed, citing "major health and aesthetic concerns," and the committee accepted his recommendation to abandon this option.
The second scenario, modeled on the process followed in Reading and several other towns in Massachusetts, would make recycling a requirement for trash collection. Myers explained that the trash truck would only collect solid waste at those addresses where recyclable materials were also placed at the curb to be collected by a second truck. He noted that some sort of enforcement strategy, developed in partnership with the contractor, would be necessary for what he described as "a form of mandatory recycling."
According to Saltmarsh's estimates, the cost savings would not be significant. It currently costs $125,000 a year to collect recyclables every other week and weekly collection would cost another $90,000 for a total of $215,000. If only 20-percent of the waste stream were recycled, the additional collection cost would exceed any savings while with recycling at 30-percent, the savings would approach $50,000.
PAYT was the third option the committee considered. PAYT is intended to increase recycling by requiring residents to place the trash and garbage they do not recycle in a special-marked plastic bag purchased at local retail outlets. The trash, together with recyclable materials, is collected at the curbside once a week. Trash not contained in a marked bag is left at the curb.
PAYT treats trash disposal like a public utility by ensuring that households and businesses pay only for what they generate through the purchase of bags without subsidizing those who choose not to recycle. Moreover, non-profit organizations exempt from property tax would also pay their fair share with PAYT. Some 75 municipalities in New Hampshire have introduced PAYT programs.
Saltmarsh estimated that by recycling 30-percent of the waste stream, PAYT would spare property taxpayers almost $702,000 with proceeds from the sale of bags offsetting most of the cost. Myers explained that the council could effectively subsidize a PAYT program by setting the price of the bags at its discretion. Likewise, he acknowledged that the experience of other municipalities indicated that a PAYT program would likely lead to recycling more than 30-percent of the waste stream, which by increasing the savings to taxpayers would allow more favorable pricing of the bags.
Finally, Casella Waste Systems, which recently acquired Bestway Disposal Services, has suggested introducing an automated system using 64-gallon toters for trash and recyclables provided by the contractor. Representatives of the company will be invited to meet with the Public Works Committee to explain the proposal on February 11.
Councilor Henry Lipman (Ward 3) stressed the urgency of reducing the cost of handling solid waste in the 2013-2014, even it required accelerating the renewal of the current collection contract or putting a new contract out to bid.