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City Conducts Preliminary Review of 'Pay As You Throw' Trash Programs

A committee looked at multiple options for PAYT programs and came up with two preferred options.

Bags, carts, overflow bags, base fee, bag fee -- it could all be a part of common lingo in Newton if a "pay as you throw" trash program makes its way to the Garden City. 

A committee made up of residents, finance professionals and public works officials presented last night an initial analysis of potential "pay as you throw" (PAYT) trash programs and how they could be implemented in the city of Newton.

In the end, the committee favored programs that incorporated the barrels (or "carts") used in the city's current curbside pickup program. The preferred PAYT programs could run residents an estimated $185-$267 a year, the committee reported.

Elaine Gentile, the city's director of environmental affairs, lead the presentation last night and emphasized several times that the financial figures in the analyses were estimates only. More official numbers, she said, could be plugged in if the city decides to formally pursue a PAYT program. 

As of 2011, 134 communities (38 percent) in Massachusetts had some form of PAYT program, with 53 curbside pickup programs and 81 drop-off programs, Gentile said.

Currently, the city of Newton collects just under 44,000 tons of waste & recycling each year from 27,000 households. The city spends around $6.8 million/year collecting that waste and recycling.

And while the PAYT question has come up in past conversations, the city did not start analyzing potential programs until this year. .  

Gentile mentioned that the city has received a $150,000 grant from the DEP to start up a PAYT program. That money, she said, will have to be spent in the next year or the city will have to ask for an extension to keep the funds.

Options

Gentile explained that the city looked at a number of different PAYT options and combinations, including those that incorporated different bag and barrel fees as well as programs with a flat base fee paid by everyone using the city's curbside pickup.

Five options were presented last night with two options preferred by the committee.

The first preferred option was one that included two different size trash bins, each at different rates, as well as a base fee and fees for overflow bags:

  • The "graduated" bins would include a 64-gallon bin for (an estimated) $150/year or a 35-gallon bin at $75/year. This would cover solid waste disposal for one bin.
  • A flat, base fee for all users of $110/year
  • Separate cost (around $2.25) for overflow bags. These are bags used for trash that does not fit in the bins.
  • Projected cost/household/year roughly $185-$260
  • This option has administrative simplicity, it's close to the current system and the base fee gives the city a predictable revenue stream
  • However, this does not optimize waste reduction as much as a program with a bag fee

The second preferred option includes fees for specific trash bags purchased by residents, which are then placed in the current bins. This option also includes a base fee.

  • Bags would be purchased by the residents at roughly $2.25/bag. Bags are placed in the current bins.
  • A flat, base fee for all users of $150/year. This would cover costs for solid waste collection, recycling collection as well as overhead and administrative costs.
  • Projected cost/household/year roughly $267
  • This option maximizes waste reduction with a bag fee and uses the current bins
  • However, there would be a lot of work enforcing the bag policy; bins would have to be checked to make sure people are using the right bags

Aldermen concerns

Although the city has not yet filed an official request to pursue a PAYT program, officials agreed last night that PAYT programs should encourage residents to reduce waste.

Alderman Ted Hess-Mahan said it is important that any PAYT program "influences people's behavior" and gives an incentive for recycling. 

The city's current recycling rate is at about 54 percent, officials said last night.

Some aldermen, though, had concerns about the program as a whole and how residents would take another fee.

Alderman Lenny Gentile encouraged his fellow board members to "look at the big picture" and keep in mind other costs the city, in particular the rebuilding of and renovations at Fire Station #3.

If the city considers a PAYT program, residents may not be as inclined to support a possible debt exclusion override for either of those projects, Alderman Gentile said.

"Whether it’s for environmental reasons or revenue, all the people are going to know in city of Newton [is that] if we start charging them for trash collection, it is an expense," Ald. Gentile said.

"I hope we don't lose sight what's really important to us," he added.

Correction: The second option initially listed the base fee as $250, but the estimate is $150. 

Janet Sterman December 14, 2011 at 04:57 PM
Pay as you throw up is more like it. Schnipper was so eager for Newton to go to automated pickup and single-stream recycling (the blue and green bins) - touting on the huge savings we were going to realize over trash removal costs of days past. Now the Board of Aldermen wants to 'gently' shove PAYT onto residents. I don't know about you, but I would rather not be nickel and dimed on services by the City of Newton, thank you!

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