Belmont Is A Mess! Select Board Targets Growing Trash Complaints On Street, In Parks

Photo: Just another overflowing receptacle in Belmont

When Mark Paolillo decided not to run for re-election to the then Board of Selectmen in 2019, it was mentioned at the time that board meetings would miss his memorable discharges of distain for people who left garbage, trash and, yes, dog poop on the town’s streets and parks.

“This is outrageous, simply outrageous. This can’t happen,” he cried when viewing the aftermath – beer cans, food containers, plastic bags – of an adult softball game in 2016.

So with Paolillo winning a return to the board earlier this year, it was only a matter of time before the public would hear his clarion call:

”Leonard Street is a mess!” Paolillo said at the Monday, Sept 20 board meeting, barely containing his disgust of anyone knowingly throwing trash in overflowing barrels at parks and in the business centers.

But Paolillo’s anger is not attention seeking but well warranted as anyone who travels through Belmont Center, by eateries around town or in any park or playground can testify, trash is a real problem throughout the Town of Homes. Containers outside the town’s favorite take-out places are overwhelmed while barrels in parks are swamped with all manner of garbage and waste.

“The trash levels that we’re seeing now are pretty substantial,” Jay Marcotte, Department of Public Works director, told the board.

Topped out trash cans and garbage left on the ground is not a new problem. Over the years particular locations such as the aforementioned softball diamond off Concord Avenue, Belmont Center or at Joey’s Park at the Winn Brook School which has become an impromptu site for children’s parties, are in need of collection specifically during the weekend.

The trash cascade begins on Friday evening and continues all day Saturday as residents and visitors come for grab a bite to eat or to attend kids events at parks. And the trash doesn’t stay where its bought or brought. A study from a newly formed local environmental group, Clean Green Belmont, discovered the majority of waste at Clay Pit Pond comes from Belmont Center eateries.

And the jump in trash is more than just a litter or esthetic issue. All that out-in-the-open garbage quickly turns into a public health problem as improperly discarded food contributes to the introduction of rats and other rodents.

So how did the town get in such as predicament? According to Marcotte, much of the increase in waste began in 2019 when the town eliminated overtime for the DPW’s Saturday pickup schedule in a cost savings move. And despite the town’s hauler, Waste Management, emptying town reciprocals three times a week, on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, it does not keep up with the volume for waste produced over the weekend.

Two years ago, the DPW issued a Carry in-Carry out policy that is successful at National Parks but didn’t work in Belmont other than making many residents angry that waste barrels were removed.

In addition, the town had “a very detailed discussion about trash” with Leonard Street businesses when the street became a one way to promote dining and shopping in the Center which led to an agreement that retailers and eateries would install their own trash receptacles which they would have removed.

”I think what we are starting to see is that’s not happening,” said Town Administrator Patrice Garvin.

Vice Chair Roy Epstein said it would be a reasonable takeaway to say that self policing by residents on controlling trash “is not working.”

“This is an example of a public good where the way to make sure it gets done is to have the DPW do it and not rely on somebody’s good intentions,” said Epstein.

Marcotte agreed, saying the return of a DPW weekend collect “is a venture we should look into it and start implementing sooner than later.” Garvin pegged the overtime price tag at $10,000 for two workers from April 1 until the first snow fall in late autumn/early winter.

The board agreed the dollars spent in reinstating the DPW pickup “are insignificant considering the benefit it will have to the community,” said Paolillo.

Garvin will “use her usual resourcefulness” to find the money, said Epstein, either by tapping into town resources or rearranging DPW schedules to allow for personnel to work on Saturday. A plan coming from Garvin will be presented to the board at its next meeting.

Belmont Households To Receive 96-Gallon Recycling Barrels This Fall

Photo: An example of recycling barrels from Cambridge.

In the past, whenever the topic of trash and recycling was on the Board of Selectmen’s agenda, it was likely the board’s second-floor meeting room at Town Hall would be overflowing with interested residents. So with the future of recycling collection as the only item before the Selectmen on Monday, Feb. 12, the board decided to move the meeting into the cavernous Town Hall auditorium anticipating a good number to attend.

But times have changed in the past few months as the special meeting began with only four citizens in attendance and that was cut in half by the end of the 80 minutes of deliberation and discussion. 

Whatever the reason for the lack of interest in what was once a hot topic in town, at the end of the meeting, the Selectmen unanimously approved the recommendation of the Belmont Department of Public Works that by the fall all recyclables – paper, plastic, glass, metal cans and cardboard – will be collected biweekly using a 96-gallon wheeled barrel that will be issued to every household in Belmont.

And like the weekly trash collection, recyclables will be collected curbside by a truck using an automated “arm”. 

“This is a major sea change for the town,” said Selectman Mark Paolillo.

The move to an automated system was out of necessity and economics, according to DPW Director Jay Marcotte. From radical changes in what type and condition recyclables will be accepted by China – which for the past two decades has been called “the world’s garbage dump” – to the sudden collapse in the secondary materials market, haulers and recycling facilities are streamlining their operations to remain in business.

One area that new efficient methods are taking place is with recyclables, where Belmont’s long-standing dual stream recycling – paper in one bin and everything else in another – is being replaced with the one-barrel system as recycling facilities will no longer maintain two separate staging area at its plants. 

“There’s not debate, it will be single stream” recycling going forward into the future, said Marcotte. 

Marcotte pointed out that over a decade, the cost of the automated pickup will fall below the current-used manual method (in which person throws the recycles into the back of a truck) as the cost of approximately 10,100 barrels is paid off. In the initial fiscal year, 2019, the manual pickup would cost $688,200 compared to $716,850 under the automated system, while in fiscal 2024, which would be the option year with a five-year contract, automated costs dip to $747,400 while the manual method would soar to $817,300. 

In addition, the automated system with the large containers have several advantages over the manual mode, according to Recycling Coordinator Mary Beth Calnan including less liter – windy days wreak havoc with the uncovered bins as papers and other recyclables are blown around neighborhoods – the covers keep the material dry lessening contamination, and the barrels will prevent rodents and squirrels from rummaging through the recyclables. 

And why did Belmont select the sizeable 96-gallon barrel for recycling? “It’s the industry standard,” said Marcotte.

While agreeing to the change in the coming contract – Marcotte said the town is very close to signing a five year agreement with one of the three firms that submitted acceptable proposals – the Selectmen advised the DPW to conduct an extensive public outreach on the recyclables  especially targeting older residents so they will be comfortable with the changes coming, including providing smaller recycling barrel options as the DPW is doing with garbage collection containers.

Marcotte said while the new garbage and recycling collection contract begin on July 1, the new containers will not be delivered to residents for about two months so the current system will continue until that time.

Paolillo said he believes household recycling rates through town will increase as residents have a single container to store their recycables.

Throw Out The Barrels: Belmont Eyeing Carry In, Carry Out Trash Policy


If the Belmont Department of Public Works has its way; the trash you make on town property will be equal to the trash you take out.

At a recent meeting before the Belmont Board of Selectmen, the DPW’s Highway Division proposed a town-wide initiative of removing all trash barrels in municipal parks and commercial business areas, according to DPW head Jay Marcotte.

Instead, the town will take a garbage in, garbage out approach to the problem of barrels overflowing with the gross stuff that people throw away.

The new system, dubbed Carry In Carry Out, is straightforward and direct: All trash and waste generated by a resident on town property will now be taken “out” by that same person.

Currently, the town empty barrels on Monday, Wednesday, and Fridays while the town’s trash removal contractor, FW Russell & Sons, removes waste from containers in Belmont’s business districts on the same days. From April to December, the DPW has a two-person crew going to the town’s fields and parks on Saturdays.

But Marcotte noted that with containers, “it’s the ‘Field of Dreams’ concept: If you build it, they will come. If you have trash barrels, trash will come.” 

What Highway crews have long discovered is people toss household trash into the containers. Also, industrial and contractor waste are found by the DPW. Other times, residents attempt to squeeze large boxes into a barrel, clogging it up. And when the containers are filled, people will place their trash along the side.

Rather than canisters and waste baskets, signs and notices would take their place requiring all participants in remove the waste generated to be put in home containers and recycling bins.

The DPW is moving forward with what appears to be counterintuitive to keeping parks and spaces clean due, in large part, to the almost daily abuse and neglect of the town’s barrels. Despite emptying the containers several times a week, many in popular areas are constantly filled to the brim.

The hope is that containerless town sites will promote residents to keep parks and recreation land clean and minimize illegal dumping. People using the sites will be more likely to use reusable containers and bottles and will be more willing to recycle items they bring home.

The policy of taking away the trash is gaining in popularity locally and around the country. Nearby Walden Pond in Concord, the Boston Harbour Islands, the National Park System and the municipalities of Gloucester, Reading, and Needham have joined the trend.

While the Health Department isn’t eager to see the barrels be removed, they are for the removal with a one-word response: vermin! Dr. David Alper, longtime chair of the Belmont Board of Health, said the most efficient method of reducing the number of rats, birds, wasps and squirrels is by removing their food source.

Only the most secure trash containers made of steel with small openings – which are quite expensive – would be as effective in preventing pest infestation as not having barrels at all, said Alper.

And after seeing photographic evidence of the abuse, some residents are heaped upon barrels and other containers, the Selectmen voiced their support for a change.

“I can’t believe this. It is disgusting … This is totally unacceptable,” said Selectmen Chair Mark Paolillo of a photo showing the aftermath of a men’s summer league championship at the Belmont High School softball field with the area surrounding a barrel marked with empty beer cans and sparkling wine bottles.

Paolillo said the Recreation Department should be issuing warnings to teams that abuse the sites and leaving garbage at town locations, “or we will revoke the league’s permit!”

Marcotte said his department would like to start the new policy in the spring and chronicle the impact. They are only waiting for the town’s Park Commissioners – which is made up of the Board of Selectmen – to give the OK.