New London to consider pay-per-bag trash removal plan

Pile of plastic containers ready to be bailed and sold by Willimantic Waste Paper Company in 2007 (file photo)
Pile of plastic containers ready to be bailed and sold by Willimantic Waste Paper Company in 2007 (file photo)

New London – The city is exploring a less costly and more environmentally friendly trash removal system.

The City Council next month will consider a proposal for a new pay-as-you-throw system as a way to reduce municipal solid waste removal costs for the city and follow the state’s push to improve the statewide recycling rate.

Public Works Director Brian Sear said the city has explored the idea for the past year and a half and in September was awarded two grants totaling $52,000 through the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection’s “Save Money And Reduce Trash,” or SMART, initiative. The state has contracted with Zero Waste to introduce the initiative statewide.

The money is earmarked for outreach and pre-implementation of a unit-based pricing program in which residents pay for specially marked bags to dispose of solid waste. It’s a successful program known in Stonington as a “pay-per-bag” system.

The goal is to raise awareness of how much garbage is being tossed out – which amounts to about 859 pounds per person in New London, Sear said. Unit-based pricing programs typically see a decrease in solid waste production to between 400 and 600 pounds per person per year, compared to the national average rate of disposal of 1,124 pounds per person per year, according to DEEP.

“We anticipate that when people buy the bags they become conscious of how much garbage they produce. It’s a tried and true process,” Sear said.

Chris Nelson, a supervisor in DEEP’s Source Reduction & Recycling Group in the Bureau of Materials Management, said residents in cities with curbside pickup are often disconnected from the cost of waste removal since it is covered by their property taxes.

Part of DEEP’s SMART initiative is to raise awareness about what is being thrown out and get people to think of their trash more like a utility, Nelson said. The public needs an incentive to start thinking about ways to reduce the amount of waste they produce much in the way they would install energy efficient appliances to cut energy costs.

The city, which offers curbside pick-up of garbage, spends roughly $700,000 annually, $58 per ton, for disposal of a yearly average of about 12,000 tons of solid waste. The cost is negotiated through the Southeastern Connecticut Regional Resources Recovery Authority. There are additional costs associated with picking up and hauling the waste to the Preston incinerator, Sears said.

The city is paid $5 per ton for its recycling material. While the increase in recycling won’t be a boon for the city, the reduction of solid waste would be.

Sear said the city has about an 18 percent recycling rate, which means 82 percent of all waste is sent to the incinerator. The goal would be to get the recycling average to 42 percent and, based on experiences in other municipalities, reduce disposal costs by nearly half, Sear said. The national recycle rate is 34.6 percent, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Sear said details of a proposed program, such as the cost per bag, are still in the works. Residents in Stonington pay 75 cents for a 15-gallon bag and $1.25 for a 33-gallon bag.

Nelson said the state goal is to have a 60 percent recycling rate by 2024.

Mayor Michael Passero said the program, if implemented, could have an immediate positive impact on next year’s budget. He said he was confident it could work in the city and in addition to saving money for taxpayers “is a great system environmentally.”

g.smith@theday.com

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