New London considering idea of privatizing trash collection

New London — Some nudging by the City Center District has the City Council exploring the idea of privatizing curbside trash collection even as it studies the potential benefits of a pay-as-you-throw trash removal system.

Several members of the City Center District, a group of about 150 downtown business owners, approached the council this week to ask that the city consider the idea of letting a private trash hauler perform the duties now handled by the city’s Public Works Department’s division of Solid Waste and Recycling.

“We are suggesting that you the council create a (request for proposals) to see what the numbers would be for a private contractor to take over,” said New London resident Keith Robbins, a former first selectman of Bozrah speaking on behalf of the City Center District. "The residents and businesses have nothing to lose by gaining more information when it comes to the cost of associated with curbside collection of (municipal solid waste) in our community. With shrinking resources and the natural disdain for tax increases every avenue of economization should be explored.”

The Council voted 6-1 — John Satti voted against — to move discussion to the council’s Public Works Committee. Committee Chairman Martin Olsen said he expects to have a discussion with city officials and eventually draft a request for proposals on costs.

“I think the idea has merits. The pay-to-throw is the only thing in the pipeline, so to speak. This gives us another choice,” Olsen said.

Olsen said he acknowledges obstacles, including labor agreements already in place for public works employees.

Robbins suggested that city employees working in the solid waste division could be transferred and help to alleviate manpower shortages in public works. He said it also could lead to cost savings in maintenance and purchases of trash-collection vehicles.

The City Council in February voted in favor of using $54,360 in state grants funds to explore the pay-as-you-throw system recommended by the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. DEEP contracted with Waste Zero to pitch the idea to municipalities across the state as a way to reduce municipal solid waste, increase recycling rates and potentially cut costs for the city.

The opposition has come, however, in part because of the part of the plan that requires residents to purchase special yellow bags associated with the system, which are $1 for a 33-gallon size. Other critics see the potential for garbage being strewn about if the trash bags are left on sidewalks and not in barrels, as has been suggested.

Public Works Director Brian Sear said he views the idea of privatization not as an alternative but a separate issue from the pay-as-you-throw system — collection versus disposal.

Sear said preliminary results of the study by Waste Zero show that the city potentially could save an estimated $300,000 in disposal costs with the predicted decrease in trash as people change habits and recycling increases under the program.

g.smith@theday.com

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