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State pitches pay-as-you-throw to Montville

Montville — The average town resident disposes of 700 pounds of trash every year.

But the state and town officials say the pay-as-you-throw program sharply could reduce the annual trash tonnage — from about 1,750 tons at the transfer station to about 1,000 — leading to disposal savings of nearly $40,000, greater revenue and a smaller burden on taxpayers.

The Town Council, meeting at 7 p.m. Monday, potentially could vote to try out the program for one year. But many residents question the program and multiple officials say they want to vet it further. Stonington implemented pay-as-you-throw two decades ago and New London will vote on it June 18.

Montville officials say they're considering a modified pay-per-bag system that would see 50 free bags given to residents when they pay their annual $55 transfer station sticker fee.

Waste Zero, a state-hired consultant promoting the SMART (Save Money and Reduce Trash) pay-as-you-throw program, says average households in a wide variety of New England towns and cities only need about one trash bag per week. Residents can purchase 30- or 15-gallon bags at local shops as needed, at $2 or $1.25, respectively.

The state says once residents get accustomed to being careful about what they toss in the trash, the overall waste reductions cut down the town's hefty transfer station expenses. The town's tipping fees to dispose of residential trash rack up to $101,500, a figure the program could nearly cut in half, the state says.

"It's a program that works every single time," said Waste Zero's Kristen Brown, citing data from dozens of New England towns that slashed solid waste tonnage by an average of 44 percent.

Brown argued the current system is unfair to taxpayers who don't use the transfer station on a regular basis; 69 percent of transfer station expenses are covered by general taxes, yet only 2,000 homes actively use the service.

She added that while "every town is apprehensive," polling shows residents end up backing the system. Pay-as-you-throw tends to change behaviors and prompts more recycling, clothing drop-offs and donations of goods that aren't really trash, such as cellphones, shoes and small electronics, she said.

Whether residents will be given free 15-gallon or 30-gallon bags remains to be decided. Either way, several residents during a Department of Energy and Environmental Protection presentation last week loudly scoffed when Brown suggested they could jam their weekly garbage into a single bag.

Some residents said their children and grandchildren produce at least a bag a week of diapers alone. Others noted they already vigorously recycle and still generate more than a bag of trash every week.

"I'd consider myself an average family," said resident Jeremy Bills, a father of two. "I feel as though I'd go right through the free bags and be stuck paying for however many bags I need. I invite you to come to my house and find me an extra $100."

Town Council Chairman Tom McNally and Councilor Joe Rogulski focused on the potential to reduce trash and save taxpayers money on transfer station costs. Rogulski, who said his family has strived to find new ways to squeeze as much recycling as possible into the recycling bin, sympathized with Bills, who urged leaders to seek even lower disposal rates to save money.

Montville currently pays about $58 per ton for disposal but officials expect that to rise.

Mayor Ron McDaniel said Friday that he liked the program but wasn't "sure we've fully vetted it out yet at this point."

Councilor Wills Pike said Friday that questions lingered about the program but he did think it would produce "savings to the town in the long run."

Pike said the idea that "you can put five bags of garbage into one — that's a big challenge. It causes everyone to pause."

Florence Turner, a transfer station worker for 16 years, said the program was fair, arguing it would cut down on abuse of the sticker system and force people to recycle.

"A guy came in with a Ford Ranger full of racks of clothing," she said. "If you put your clothing and textiles in one of those donation boxes, there is zero cost to the town of Montville. I see waste, waste, waste."

The program would not impact residential recycling, nor individuals who pay private haulers for trash pickup. Residents who pay someone to pick up their trash and bring it to the transfer station for them must use the town-provided bags under the program, officials said.

b.kail@theday.com

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