Less (waste) is more (savings) for New London

If, in a city's annual budget planning, the municipality found a way to subtract three-quarters of a mill from the proposed tax rate without cutting out a valuable public service or laying off employees, wouldn't that be refreshingly welcome?

If the same proposal would more equitably spread the cost of a public service to all users instead of just property taxpayers, shouldn't that be satisfying to those who have been carrying the load?

If that same proposal would responsibly and substantially lower the burden on other public resources, couldn't that make it even more appealing?

It would, it should and it could.

A proposal to switch New London's waste collection to a Pay-As-You-Throw system will go before the City Council Monday, and by the end of summer it could be in use. While we give the city low marks for the way the plan was put into the budget before the council voted to establish it, the idea is absolutely worth trying.

The plan is for all trash being collected by city crews at residences, businesses, government facilities and institutions to be in special yellow bags. The bags will be sold for $1 (33-gallon) and 60 cents ("tall kitchen" size) at various venues, including supermarkets and convenience stores. The state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, which is essentially aghast at the amount of recyclable New London trash that doesn't find its way into recycling, is fostering the idea. PAYT is also expected to change the equation from how much New London spends for trash tipping (a whopping $58 per ton, and rising) to how much New London is paid for its recycled material ($5 per ton).

According to details of the SMART Trash study done for New London and posted on the city's website, the program could nearly halve the high volume of residential trash collected by the city: from an average of 859 pounds per year per person down to 450 pounds, give or take. Bag fees apply to all users of the city's waste removal system and would cover most of the disposal costs, forestalling a .75-mill addition to the coming year's property taxes.

(To be fully transparent we note The Day company, as with other businesses that employ private waste removal services, will not be participating in the new system.)

City residents are used to large wheelie bins that do double duty as trash storage for six days a week and effectively thwart most animal raiders. Concern from residents about possible vermin attraction has been vociferous. The Day invited questions from concerned and curious New Londoners and Public Works Director Brian Sear provided answers in Thursday's edition.

Sear said bags can be put out for collection either on the ground or in any container in which they will be obvious to collection crews (except the green wheeled bins). The green bins will be repurposed as recycling containers by the addition of stickers the city will provide. Sear answered the vermin question by noting that other towns using PAYT have not reported problems with animals ripping open the bags. If that does happen, he said, public works crews will clean up the mess.

We're skeptical on that point and the city should be prepared to amend the plan if vermin become a problem.

Faced with escalating waste disposal costs, town and state governments throughout New England, including Stonington,  have already adopted PAYT. More are considering it. Montville, after citizen pushback akin to that in New London, announced this week that it would delay further action for more review. That's a sensible approach, but if residents have an open mind we expect they will ultimately back the plan.

It would be a mistake for New London, Montville and other towns to abandon the idea because of the familiar hesitancy to change. The only way to effectively test a wide-scale program such as this is to put it into effect for all. If, after a year, the problems are greater than the benefits, the municipality will have saved some money in at least one budget cycle and can move on to other solutions.

But we don't think that will happen. The pioneering has been done by towns in Massachusetts, Vermont and other states and has been well received. New London factored PAYT into its budget. Now it needs a vote of the City Council to put the plan into effect or find a way to cover the costs of the old system.

Do the right thing, councilors. Remodel New London's waste disposal system into one that costs the city less, burdens the environment less, and relies less on the same old payers. Less, as the saying goes, is more.

 

The editorial board is composed of the publisher and four journalists of varied editing and reporting backgrounds. The board's discussions and information gained from its meetings with political, civic, and business leaders drive the institutional voice of The Day, as expressed in its editorials. The editorial department operates separately from the newsroom.

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