PITTSFIELD, Mass. — A proposal to change the way residential trash is collected is heading to the City Council.
The Resource and Recovery Committee on Wednesday passed a favorable recommendation on Ward 3 Councilor Nicholas Caccamo's petition to switch to a totter system. The committee's plan is to give all households a 35-gallon tote for trash and as much as a 95-gallon tote for recycling. Those totes will then allow Republic Services to switch to automated trash pickup.
The commission had sorted through as many as 10 options to settle on a proposal which is estimated to save the city about $87,000 per year in trash collection operations.
However, that savings is heavily dependent on receiving a state grant to help with the upfront purchase of the toters.
The group did a cost-benefit analysis of three options that ranged in benefits. The chosen option would require a $1,797,760 contract for collection, $532,619 contract for disposal, $320,000 for transportation of recyclables to Springfield, and $114,713 annually to pay the bonding for the toters. Those together are about $87,000 per year less than the city is paying under its current pick up system.
The savings compared would be mostly seen in the reduction of disposal cost for trash.
"These are numbers based on a particular scenario and a particular set of facts so there will be nuisances, too," Chairman Matthew Kerwood said.
By limiting the amount of trash residents can throw away on a weekly basis, recycling is expected to be greatly increased. Based on other communities that have made the switch, the group expects to triple the amount of recycling from 11 percent to 33 percent in the first year alone and likely increase more over time. Overall the estimates are that more than 5,000 tons of trash would be reduced.
Charles Cook said based on Census American Community Survey, a 35-gallon toter will be enough for 93 percent of the households, as long as they recycle. Cooks says a family of four or less wouldn't often need to fill more than one toter. Pittsfield's data shows that is 93 percent of the households.
Another 5 percent are families of five, another 2 percent is six, and the rest is more than that. For those families, they'll likely have to rent a second tote.
The committee, however, didn't specify how that system would work specifically but suggested that the user pays the cost to purchase the tote plus whatever the additional cost is to dispose of the additional trash. For other families, the group is suggesting the option of purchasing bags from the city to throw any excess trash away in.
"The majority of the people 35 gallons is fine, they'll have to buy a bag once in a while," Jamie Cahillane said.
The city would purchase the toters and distribute them to the households. Apartment complexes of four or more families are already responsible for their own trash disposal (though there is a little hitch in the rules in which if a four-family unit is owner-occupied then the city will pick it up). Commercial tenants are also responsible for their own trash pickup.
The savings with the program, however, would be mostly if not completely negated if the city doesn't receive a state grant of $400,000 to pay for the upfront cost of the totes. Kerwood said he is very confident based on conversations he has had with the Department of Environmental Protection that the money is going to be available. That annualized out to cut down on expenses by about $40,000.
"The 400,000 comes from direct conversations we've been having with our friends at DEP," Kerwood said.
Others on the committee added that after a decade those costs would fall off the books, yielding more savings. But, at the same time, there would have to be a replacement program for the toters.
Gas prices, however, can also reduce the savings. The commission looked at the idea of including a fuel recovery fee in its contract with Republic Services. That would mean Republic Services changes its billing depending on gas prices. Or, the company could assume one rate for the entire year, which means a higher price for pickup is given should prices go up and see additional benefits if it stays the same or goes down.
Commissioner of Public Services Bruce Collingwood suggested that the city holds an additional $30,000, which is the difference in the estimated contracts, and pay if the fuel prices go up, or see the money go unused if prices stay low.
Collingwood also added that he'd have to get even firmer numbers from Covanta regarding recycling since the amount is estimated to increase by about 3,000 tons. The recycling would be picked up bi-weekly but would be a single stream, meaning the various types of recycling didn't have to be separated.
But the commission didn't want to get too far into the planning for the system. It was tasked with making a recommendation on Caccamo's petition to change city code to move to an automated collection system, which it concluded would bring annual savings to the city.
Additionally, health officials told the committee that the move to toter systems would reduce the number of trash being scattered throughout the city.
Now the group is looking for City Council input on the code change while concurrently letting city staff plan out the next steps of the rollout.
Kerwood says he wants to avoid having the next steps of the plan debated on the council floor and instead "I'd rather have them understand and endorse a concept of a plan." But he wants the City Council to weigh in on its thoughts about the parameters and goals of the program.
From there, Kerwood says he'd like professionals in the field work with the administration to build out the specifics of the plan.
If the change is ultimately made, Kerwood said "education, education, education" is the key to bringing it to the public. He says it is important that the public understands exactly how the program is going to work if it is going to work at all.
The petition will now go to the City Council and then passed onto the Ordinance and Rules Committee. It wouldn't be until the fall when any changes will actually be made.
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