Trash Talk: Picking Up on Belmont’s Garbage Options

Photo: DPW Director Jay Marcotte modeling the possible containers Belmont residents could be using to place their waste in 2018. 

The options how Belmont will gets rid of its garbage and recycling beginning in the summer of 2018 is increasing by the day.

Single or dual stream? Use only big plastic bags you have to buy? Automated or keep it the way it is?

Who knew trash could be so complicated?

That was the feeling for many of the three dozen residents who attended the first of two – or possibly three – public discussions sponsored by the Belmont Department of Public Works held Monday, June 26 in the Town Hall auditorium.

In the presentation before the Belmont Board of Selectmen which included a wide variety of plastic trash containers as examples of possible receptacles residents could be using next year, DPW Director Jay Marcotte along with the town’s recycling coordinator Mary Beth Calnan sought to give the public the town’s choices as it prepares to signs in early 2018 a new long-term trash collection and recycling contract to collect curbside waste at nearly 10,000 locations.

“It’s a balancing act, said Marcotte on determining which of the options will best meet the needs of all the town’s residents.

The town currently is in the second extension of its 2011 contract with Cambridge’s J.W. Russell which expires on June 30, 2018. The new contract will be put out to bid in the fall with a final contractor selected in mid-January, said Marcotte. 

The DPW is seeking “direction” from the Selectmen on what option the department should pursue, said Marcotte, much relying on balancing residents’ expectations and the town’s fiscal resources.

And there is an array of ways for the town’s trash and recycling to be collected. The town will need to decide if recycled material will be included with everyday trash – known as the single stream approach – versus a dual stream which recycables are picked up seperately. 

The first option is to continue what the town is doing. The current program is collected manually four days a week with an unlimited number of barrells, yard waste and bulky items. If you put out a dozen containers and a sofa or two on the curb, it’s all going to be picked up.

Recycling is collected once every two weeks and there are Recycling Days for items not collected such as rigid plastics, textiles and DVDs/CDs.

The current seperate recycling program is quite effective in Bemont; 95 percent of residents recycle and nearly three-quarters of recyclable items are recovered.

But the cost is pricy: fiscal year ’18 expense for collection, disposal and recycling is $2.5 million.

High on the DPW’s list of options is automated collection. One need only travel south to Watertown to see a single truck with a mechanical arm pick up wheeled-trash recepticles provided to residents being hoisted up and into the container. 

Marcotte said this method – which is increasingly becoming the industry standard throughout the country – is efficient, cuts labor costs and workmen compensation claims and is neater than the current system.

There is a signficiant upfront cost of between $250,000 to $450,000 for the new “carts” as well as the liklihood that an addtional recycling truck will be neeeded. And trash pick up is limited to what’s in the barrels; bulky items will need a seperate removal at an addtional cost. But the town will see yearly cost savings by the fourth year of upwards of $200,000 versus the manual method.

Another option is Pay-As-You-Throw or PAYT in which all garbage is required to be placed in a 35 gallon bag that costs a few dollars. If you put your garbage in any other bag – sorry, it’s not being picked up.

The pickup can be done within a manual or automated system, with a state grant avaliable to subsidize puchasing carts. The bags will be a distinctive color with the town’s seal on it.

Marcotte said PAYT will decrease the amount the town will pick up and it’s a great incentive to reduce, reuse and recycle. It would also be somewhat cheaper to run. But he noted “throw” systems come with its own issues: you have to purchase bags for all waste, collection is not as efficient, recycling is not as “clean”, and there has been increases in illegal dumping – or people throwing trash in other people’s bins – from those who just won’t pay for the bags. 

With so many options, some residents wondered why things need to change from the familiar system currently in use.

“I think the whole thing is nuts,” said Maryann Scali of Prospect Street, speaking for several long-time homeowners in the hall. “Why can’t we leave what we’re doing?” 

Several people believe the largest container at 65 gallons would prove too unwhelding for older residents and those living on slopped roadways especially in the winter. Others said that they would not need a large PAYT bag for their weekly curb-side offering.

“I would really like to see the emphasise here placed strongly on conveince and ease for the customer,” said John Gilman of Claflin Street 

Amanda Mujica of the Belmont PTA/PTO Green Alliance felt that it was wasteful for the 10,000 customers to throw out the their existing barrels and purchase new containers for a quarter of a million dollars. 

“I know that everyone is on this rally about automation but the trucks are going to take longer as they go up and down each street because they can only go up one side at a time,” she noted.

Pat Brusch of Radcliffe Road said she would be in favor of a “throw” system but only if it was accompanied by an article before Town Meeting to discuss and vote on “an underride.”

The opposite of an override which allows a community to permentaly exceed the annual 2.5 percent cap on the property tax increase, the underride Brusch is proposing would reimburse Belmont taxpayers the $2.1 million they approved in 1990 to create the current curbside trash and recycling system.

Several residents noted they were in favor of the PAYT option, including Taylor Road’s Kim Slack who brought a successful citizens petition at May’s Town Meeting to allow the Board of Selectmen to consider PAYT in future contracts. Slack told the board the “throw” option would not require an automated system which would result in more diesal fumes and would reduce the waste collected from residents “starting on day one.” 

Others, such as John O’Connor of Upland Road didn’t believe it was fair to ask homeowners – who will be facing in the next few years requests for higher taxes to pay for a new high school and other capital projects – to pay to place their rubbish in a bag when they paid for collection 27 years ago. 

A compromise between the existing system and the “throw” option which some selectmen appeared favorable with was voiced by Terese Hammerle of Adams Street who suggested that residents should be able to fill either a 35 gallon bag or container for free each week and then pay for any additional waste.

“That is a way to address the town having already paying for [collection],” she said. “You don’t want it to be unlimited then there is no incentive to reduce the garbage we produce.”

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  1. Anne says

    Thanks for the good article, as I was unable to attend the meeting. I’m a bit confused about the following though: If a truck could only do one side at a time, needing to turn around, how would one-way streets be covered? I’ve always seen the arm in the back.

    In my opinion, if the mechanical arm system is becoming standardized, Belmont should follow that trend to minimize long-term costs. 4 years does not seem a long time to recoup losses from this expenditure. The bag system may prove to be a nuisance, with animals getting into trash, as well.

    This article doesn’t say which recycling methods are being favored, but if we moved to dual stream, those receptacles would also benefit from the mechanical approach. Anne

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