PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The Health Department is recommending the city ramp up education and enforcement of the current waste removal laws.
In the wake of the City Council rejecting a plan to provider 45-gallon and 96-gallon toters to residents to limit trash disposal, the council is now continuing that conversation by looking at the current laws on the books. On Monday, the Ordinance and Rules Subcommittee heard from Health Director Gina Armstrong on the existing laws and ways to better seek compliance from residents.
"Based on the current situation, it would require additional staffing in the department," Armstrong of enforcing the current laws more stringently.
The department did, however, run a trial recently to see exactly what it would take. For one week, inspectors spent two to 2 1/2 hours on the trash routes looking for violations. In all, Armstrong said only 15 percent of the city was covered and it took nearly 20 hours with the followup paperwork included.
"We didn't actually issue any tickets. This was a time study just to extrapolates how much manpower we would need in the department," Armstrong said.
She said during that trial, the department found 247 violations. Currently, the enforcement of trash collection tends to be on a complaint basis or if department staffers happen to notice violations in their daily travels. In all of 2017, there were 2,700 violations.
"A larger percentage of these inspections in 2017 were related to poor trash management," Armstrong said.
The current laws require residents to recycle under a provision reading, "waste materials shall be separated as either mixed recyclable glass, metal, plastic and waxes containers; mixed recyclable papers and corrugated cardboard; and other solid wastes. Wastes and recyclables so separated shall be properly contained in a manner and to an extent as to not create any health or other hazard and shall be placed for collection so as to be clearly identifiable to the collector."
And yet, the city's recycling rate hovers around 11 percent. Armstrong said she has noticed some streets have a high level of recycling while others have very low levels, an indication that neighbors influence each other's habits.
The laws include that no yard or agricultural waste such as leaves, grass, hedge clippings and the like be part of the curbside trash collection. It reads that there cannot be bulky waste disposed on the curb without a sticker. There are restrictions on demolition, infection, hazardous, and explosive wastes.
The trash cans need to be 32-gallons or smaller, with handles and have lids. That amount is less than the city was offering residents through a toter system. The containers need to be watertight and there can only be two locations on the property for trash to be kept.
Following collection, containers "shall be promptly removed from curbside."
But these restrictions aren't always being followed by residents and Armstrong said the department doesn't have the manpower to regularly enforce them. She proposes a mix of educational programs to help curb resident's behavior.
First, she is working with the trash hauler Republic Services to have drivers give notices to residents who violate the rules. Those notices will explain to the residents what the current laws are and that they need to comply. She is also hoping for the hauler to use electronic data collection technology to report daily violations to the Health Department. And, the hauler is being asked to provide reports on the recycling rates so the department and monitor the effectiveness of their recycling push.
Next, Armstrong is looking to roll out a campaign for both recycling and for telling residents what the rules are.
"We did receive a technology assistance grant to develop a recycling education program," Armstrong said.
She said she would also be engaging neighborhood groups, the Berkshire Community College Green Team, schools, Berkshire Environmental Action Team, and the mayor's office to release public service announcements, have demonstration videos, buy advertisements in media and social networks, and hold outreach events. The department is also looking into developing an app to remind people trash days and the recycling schedule.
"This is software that will be coordinated with Republic Services. It will remind people to put their trash out the night before and they'd also get reminders of what week it is with our dual-stream recycling system," Armstrong said.
And the department is going to be reaching out to rental property owners to explain them what to do with troublesome tenants. The city will be talking to rental associations about lease addendum's landlords can sign for tenet compliance as well as provide them posters and materials.
Armstrong said the department will also continue with its trash enforcement efforts.
Ward 6 Councilor John Krol has been advocating for a bag program. That program would essentially give residents a certain number of bags at cost for disposal and anything more than that would come at a higher cost. He believes that will help lessen the amount of trash the city pays to dispose of — at a cost of an estimated $3 million per year — and increase recycling.
Krol added that with the savings, estimated by a company to be in the $400,000 range, would be sufficient to hire another enforcement officer in the Health Department to ensure compliance.
"I think this is going the right direction as far as our conversation," Krol said.
Part of the toter plan was aimed to curb blight. But, Ward 5 Councilor Donna Todd Rivers said her experience of atrocious violations is fairly rare. She cautioned the councilors to avoid making a decision based on those times when a home has a lot of trash on the curbside, improperly stored, and causing a nuisance. She said she's had less than a half dozen of those complaints during her time on the council. She wants the council to focus on what any changes to the ordinance will mean to the "average person."
"If we are always coming from the two ends, we will never get to the middle," Rivers said.
She was also walking in a neighborhood recently and noticed that most of the residents were just putting bags on the curb. She asked and many said they stopped buying trash containers because the haulers often damaged them. After spending money on the cans, it has become more convenient for residents to just put the bags out there and not have to worry about picking up a container, which may be in the middle of the road, at the end of the day.
"We are asking our citizens to purchase something and there is no recourse when their property is damaged," Rivers said. "We need to have some sort of conversation with our provider about the respect of personal property that they are picking up."
Councilor at Large Melissa Mazzeo said the 32-gallon container size may be too restrictive. She said she'd be looking to change that. But, Councilor at Large Peter White was in opposition, saying that for the trash collectors are the ones lifting them all day and larger containers pose more of a potential of getting hurt. The toter plan was for 45-gallons but the hauler would have moved away from workers physically picking up the containers and instead automatic arms on the truck.
Mazzeo also voiced concern with the requirement that there be a container for those who generate very little trash. She said she's heard from elderly people in the city who generate only one small bag and it is easier for them to just place that on the curb.
She also voiced support of providing landlords with resources to ensure compliance from the tenants and feels that often people from outside of the city are bringing trash to relatives homes in the city, thus having the city "subsidize" the disposal costs for non-residents.
Meanwhile, Councilor at Large Earl Persip would like to see the rules around multi-family households changed. The city provides trash curbside trash collection for up to a four-family home — provided the four-family home is owner occupied and if not, the owner pays a fee for the pick. Homes larger than that are required to provide private pick up. Persip said he'd like to drop that to three-unit properties, which pushed owners of four-family homes to private collection.
Krol also supported that potential change to the ordinance.
He also thinks the city should require all trash to be in a container, though he isn't picky about the size.
"It should just be a container with a lid in my opinion," Persip said. "I don't think we should pick up anything that is not in a container."
The discussion is part of a new look the City Council is taking on curbside trash collection. After rejecting Mayor Linda Tyer's proposal for a toter system, the council is now looking to determine a new course of action toward the program. What will ultimately shake out is still unclear but the mayor has withdrawn her push for the toter system.
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