Pittsfield Weighs Possible Bag Program To Reduce Trash
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The company Waste Zero says it can help the city reduce what it pays for trash pickup without the upfront costs.
Steve Lisauskas presented the City Council with an option to go with a bag plan for trash removal. The plan would give residents coupons to buy a certain specific trash bags "at cost" and if a resident wants more, overflow bags would be made available at $2 per bag. That provides an incentive to limit the amount of a trash a homeowner throws away, which in turn would lower how much the city pays to dispose of.
"The residents use those coupons at stores. In some communities they get the bags for free, in some communities they get it at cost," Lisauskas said.
Mayor Linda Tyer had previously presented a plan to overhaul curbside trash collection, but that failed to gain the City Council's support. Tyer's plan would give residents a 45-gallon toter for trash and a 96-gallon one for recycling. That program, too, would have an overflow bag option for those who go over the limit.
The City Council sent Tyer's proposal back to her for more work. Since then, Council Vice President John Krol reached out to Waste Zero for an alternative suggestion. Lisauskas gave a presentation to the City Council on Tuesday boasting that his company could save the city more than $400,000, which is double the projections of Tyer's plan.
Lisauskas' estimates were based on providing residents with 30 gallons of trash per week - a third less than Tyer's plan. He anticipates saving $161,000 through reduced trash disposal and bringing in $249,000 in revenue from overflow bags. He said the city wouldn't have to pay an upfront cost for the bags. The bag cost would break even because residents are purchasing them at cost, he said.
"In looking at the examples we see in other parts of the country and other communities in Massachusetts which have bag-based replicas for toter-based programs, the question is can we replicate some of the strengths of a toter-based program without incurring some of the drawbacks?" Lisauskas said.
Lisauskas said toter programs come with a capital cost for the bins - in Pittsfield that was estimated at $1.4 million — raises the cost of collection bills because of the vendor's need to buy new trucks, has ongoing operational needs such as keeping an inventory of replacement toters and replacing broken ones, and causes problems with some residents with storage and handling.
"The vehicles are more expensive and collection tends to be slower," Lisauskas said of the collection aspect of it.
The bag program, however, takes the bins out of the question entirely while still placing limits on trash disposal. A resident will still use its own bin but use his company's bags instead.
Waste Zero is a bag manufacturer and Lisauskas said because of the bulk purchasing power of the residents in the city, it would actually be cheaper if residents were all buying the same bags. He estimated that a bag currently costs 43 cents now and that could drop by 50 percent because of the wholesale purchasing aspect.
City Councilor Earl Persip, however, quickly Googled the price of bags and said residents can currently purchase bags much cheaper than that.
"I'm not sure where you are shopping, you can get bags on Amazon for 7 cents a bag," Persip said.
Lisauskas said there are an array of bag sizes and quality the city could choose to purchase from. And the city can opt to have them sold in certain stores or all store — so if it wanted to send foot traffic to a local business over a national one, it could. The city can also change the price of the bags at any point.
"We like to try to limit the stores where the bags are available to local stores so people shop locally," Lisauskas said.
Lisauskas said almost all trash can fit in 45 gallons and believes 30 gallons per week would be sufficient.
"I am confident any reasonable program would reduce trash for the city," he said.
And that's where the savings to the city would be made. The city pays per ton of garbage it disposes of and Tyer has placed that annual number at $3 million. The idea of reforming the collection program would be to reduce that overall cost.
"It seems like in bag programs that is achievable," Krol said.
Krol said residents are buying bags now so the cost to the resident wouldn't change much, and may go down. Lisauskas added that the city could also provide residents with a certain number of bags for free as well if the city wanted to subsidize the resident's cost for bags.
"None of our programs have an upfront cost," Lisauskas said.
Most of the City Councilors liked the flexibility of the program. For example, the restrictions aren't on a week to week basis, but quarterly or yearly. A resident can use as many of their bag allotment in one week as they'd like. Ward 5 Councilor Donna Todd Rivers said that would be particularly helpful for those who are out of town at certain times.
"That addresses a lot of the concerns I've heard from people, that their trash fluctuates depending on what is happening with their lives," Rivers said.
Councilor at Large Melissa Mazzeo said she likes that there are different size bag options, which provides flexibility for residents.
"I would like to see more conversation about something like this, I think it could be a better fit for some people," she said.
Meanwhile, Ward 1 Councilor Helen Moon has concerns with the mayor's plan to switch recycling to single-stream — which means a resident would no longer have to sort the recyclables and instead all can go in one container. Moon said a large amount of the recycling becomes contaminated through the single-stream program. And she sees a need for the city to make an effort to reduce the amount of trash that gets thrown away.
"I would hope our municipalities and our administration would think about other options and this being one of them," Moon said.
It isn't clear what will ultimately happen with waste management but the City Council and the mayor now have another option to consider.
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