New London's garbage bag proposal: where to buy, how to use them

New London — The City Council is expected to vote Monday on a pay-as-you-throw proposal. Under the plan, residents would pay for yellow garbage bags that public works employees would pick up at curbside. City officials have said the city would save money as trash disposal decreases and recycling increases.

The proposal has caused much debate among residents. The Day solicited questions from readers via www.theday.com and social media. Public Works Director Brian Sear has answered those questions.

Q: As I understand it from my readings in The Day: garbage will go into the bag, to be purchased for $1, at the curb; recyclables will be placed into the big green garbage containers; and the current blue recycling bins will no longer be used for collection. Is this correct?

A: The goal of the overall initiative is to achieve savings with no funds expended that could add to the city’s tax burden. This translated to coming up with a way that the system would work with existing containers (any new containers would require the purchase of 10,000 units). The current proposal would have the existing 90-gallon green containers repurposed for use as recycling containers (the city would provide stickers so the containers are clearly identified as recycle). The yellow bags can be placed curbside, or placed curbside in the existing blue containers, or put out in any separate container from which the yellow bags are easily identifiable to collection crews.

Q: Where will we buy the bags? Will they be available in Waterford stores, too?

A: Bags will be available in nearly all stores that carry common goods (pharmacies, supermarkets, bodegas, etc.) The bags will be available in Waterford stores and places where New London residents commonly shop. In many cases, retailers request the bags as a way to get New London residents as customers.

Q: What will people do who can’t afford them?

A: The cost of a large bag is $1, a smaller bag, 60 cents. Most households use one bag a week, two at most. Once you factor in that residents will not be buying the bags they currently use for trash, the cost is even lower. The city will provide a mechanism through city social services for residents who have trouble paying the $1 a week.

Q: Who is responsible for cleaning up the mess if animals rip open bags on the curb?

A: This has not proven to be a problem in other cities using this program. If it should happen, our public works crew will clean it up.

Q: Is there a weight limit on the bag? If so, how is the homeowner supposed to determine if the bag is too heavy?

A: Under our safety protocols, city personnel should not pick up bags that exceed 35 pounds, which is a weight that can be manageably lifted and tossed into the trash collection hopper. That weight limit is, however, an estimate and bags will not be formally weighed. We are expecting residents to use common sense regarding the weight of a bag that city personnel are expected to pick up.

Q: Where should we place full trash bags on days there is no pickup?

A: That will be up to individual preference depending upon a person’s living arrangements. The same principles of safe, sanitary storage of municipal waste between pickups that apply now will apply under the new program.

Q: Who will enforce the program if people don’t comply and what will the penalties be?

A: During the initial rollout of the program, staff from the grant will follow collection routes and explain how to comply. After that, enforcement will follow that of typical blight notification and control.

Q: Will any apartment buildings and businesses be exempt? How about nonprofits and government buildings?

A: The program will apply to all properties that currently utilize city collection with no exceptions. Tax-exempt and government buildings will have to participate.

Q: Has the Housing Authority endorsed the bag system and will they buy bags for tenants?

A: The city only collects from the two smaller, low-density Housing Authority properties. The larger facilities utilize a private trash hauler.

Q: How will we get rid of bulky items?

A: The city’s bulky waste pickup procedures are not affected by the new program. Residents can call public works and arrange for a pickup (there is a fee), contract a service to transport the bulky items to the transfer station, or transport the items to the transfer station themselves.

Q: Is there a compost element to the proposal?

A: Not in this proposal.

Q: What changes are being considered to improve lawn waste pickup/disposal? The current twice yearly is inadequate and encourages people to put these items in the big green barrels.

A: Lawn/waste pickup/disposal is not part of the PAYT program. Savings from the program could be used to fund more frequent lawn waste pickup and disposal.

Q: Are any improvements contemplated at the Transfer Station? It is not very user-friendly, and use is likely to increase to dispose of large/heavy items, etc.

A: Plans are being considered to make the transfer station more user friendly to residents.

Q: When would it start and would it be rolled out all at once or in one area first?

A: To be fair to all residents, the program would be rolled out throughout the city. Once the program agreement is approved by City Council, the program would start in 60 to 75 days.

Q: Was there a study specifically related to how this would work in New London?

A: Yes.

Q: Have any of residents’ suggestions been incorporated into the proposal?

A: Yes.

Q: Will there be a presentation at the June 18 meeting before a vote?

A: The City Council has been exhaustively briefed on the program, both at council meetings and individually, but staff will be available on June 18 if additional information is required.

Q: Is there a full description of the plan somewhere I can read it?

A: You can access it online through the city website at http://smarttrashnl.com

Q: Why can’t the savings from this program be used to lower taxes?

A: Savings from the program are being used to control the increase in property taxes. Under the budget that starts on July 1, taxes would have needed to increase another 0.75 percent of a mill to maintain the current system.

Q: Why did the city budget include revenue/cost projections when the program hadn’t been approved by the City Council?

A: Because the budget had to be proposed by April 1 and adopted by the council by May 30. The council always had the choice of raising taxes to include the higher cost of the current trash program.

Q: Why was a request for proposals not sent out?

A: Waste Zero is the only company providing these services in the state.

Q: WasteZero, the company that was contracted to perform the study, is also the sole provider of the PAYT program. Is this a conflict?

A: Using Waste Zero’s services permits the city to reduce costs, increase collection efficiency and safety, and clean up its streets. The city is free to contract with any other provider of the same services in the future.

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