New London trash task force pitches alternative to yellow bags

New London — A task force charged with exploring the best way for the city to change its habits and increase its recycling rates has some recommendations — and they do not include any yellow garbage bags associated with a controversial pay-as-you-throw program.

The Solid Waste Management Task Force determined that one part of a possible solution is to simply provide residents with 96-gallon recycling carts at no cost, along with some instructions on what is garbage and what can be recycled.

Task force Chairman Bryan Doughty said recycling will increase, which in turn will drive down the costs of municipal waste disposal. And while the city contends property owners are now provided with 18-gallon recycling bins, he said it's obvious not everybody has or uses them.

“I drove around the city and there was a lot of green and not a lot of blue,” Doughty said, a reference to green garbage carts and blue recycling bins.

“If everybody has a recycling cart, people would recycle,” he said.

A second part of the task force’s recommendation is to treat trash removal as a utility, much like water or gas, and allow for a fee-based system to more evenly spread out costs. It would provide for a dedicated enterprise fund independent of the city’s general fund and maybe even help subsidize the $560,000 to $600,000 cost of buying the carts.

Establishments — taxable and nontaxable alike — with multiple trash carts will pay additional fees based on the number of carts and frequency of the pickups.

“This way, everyone’s on the same playing field,” Doughty said. “What we do in New London currently is simply pick up whatever an establishment puts curbside or we ignore our ordinances. To truly increase recycling and reduce solid waste ... something needs to change.”

Under the proposed plan, every establishment would be allowed to put one 96-gallon recycling cart and one 96-gallon garbage cart curbside at no cost. Any establishment that requires more would pay an $84 yearly fee per garbage cart.

Garbage carts in the city average 50 pounds of waste, so it costs the city $75.40 per cart per year in tipping fees — not including labor, fuel or other associated costs.

South Water Street, home to about 48 carts that are used by a row of Bank Street businesses and picked up twice weekly, would generate an estimated $4,368 annually, according to the task force's findings. That figure is based on 26 of the carts falling into the pay category.

For many residents, the only change is a larger recycling cart and no additional out-of-pocket expenses.

Barbara Neff, a New London resident, South Water Street business owner and treasurer of the City Center District, said the task force’s recommendations generally were well-received by the business community. She said the consensus is the recycle bins now provided by the city are too small and, because they have no lids, items often blow out of them.

“I think it’s a marvelous plan. I thought it took care of all our needs,” Neff said. “I really think by doing this, you will recycle more. We’re honestly not as diligent on recycling as we should be.”

There is some concern, she said, from owners of the larger multifamily buildings that one garbage cart isn’t enough and, because they are already paying taxes, they should get more, perhaps based on a sliding scale.

Doughty recently presented the task force's findings to the City Council.

City Council President Don Venditto joined other councilors in applauding the group’s efforts. The council received the report for the record and plans to discuss the findings in a joint meeting of the Finance, Public Works and Economic Development committees.

“Before anything is formally implemented, there will be a public hearing so that residents can participate in an open discussion about the benefits of the proposal and have any questions they have answered," Venditto said.

Venditto said the cost of the new recycle carts is one of the few obstacles in implementation of the plan.

He said the task force’s recommendations address the negative factors of the pay-as-you-throw program, which seemed to be on the verge of implementation last year.

The pay-as-you-throw trash removal program, pushed by the state and favored by the city administration, led to a public outcry from residents and business owners alike. The program would have forced residents to buy and pay for special yellow bags to dispose of municipal waste.

Many saw it as a double taxation, while at the same time conjured images of open trash bags with garbage strewn across the city. The idea also inspired a $1 million purchase of five new garbage trucks to replace an aging fleet. They are expected to be used without the pay-as-you-throw program.

The overriding concern in changing course had been the rising tipping fee rates across the state. Doughty said New London and other neighboring cities, thanks to the subsidies by the Southeastern Connecticut Regional Resources Recovery Authority, may not realize how lucky they are when it comes to costs. New London pays one of the lower fees in the state at $58 per ton of municipal waste. Old Lyme pays $73 per ton, Waterbury $95 and Hartford close to $100, Doughty said.

The city spends roughly $700,000 annually for disposal of a yearly average of about 12,000 tons of solid waste. There are additional costs associated with picking up and hauling the waste to the Preston waste-to-energy plant, Public Works Director Brian Sear said. The city is paid $5 per ton for its recycling material.

The task force set out to explore ways of increasing recycling, garnering public support and reducing municipal waste, which in turn would help level out municipal costs of disposal.

Doughty said there is proof education leads to more recycling. The task force started a campaign to educate the public shortly after it was formed and recycling has grown by an average of 14.6 percent, from an average of 1,079 tons to 1,237 tons.

Doughty said the city also should investigate ways to make the transfer station more available to residents who want to dispose of larger, heavier items. The suggestions are that it remain open during lunch hours, have later hours and remain open on Saturdays. It may even allow the city to bring back bulk waste pickup and more yard waste days.

The city also could continue to promote composting or food diversion in different forms, Doughty said. Spearheaded by City Councilor John Satti, the school system diverts food scraps to A. Secchiaroli & Sons and, in the first year of the new program, diverted 87.6 tons away from the municipal waste stream.

g.smith@theday.com

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