The Hippo


Nov 20, 2019








Pay-as-you-throw in limbo
Manchester’s “bag-and-tag” trash option studied and stalled


 Facing an approximately $8 million budget deficit, and restricted by a 2.13-percent limit on how much taxes can increase, Manchester is debating whether to  follow Concord’s lead and implement a pay-as-you-throw trash disposal system.

Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas and city legislators took a close look at the Department of Public Work’s proposal for trash removal system. 
Last month, the city held a series of public meetings, and the proposal was received and filed by the Board of Mayor and Aldermen. Now its fate sits in limbo, and though it’s unlikely pay-as-you-throw will be featured on this year’s budget,  it could return for consideration in the future. 
“I don’t personally have an issue with it,” said Ward 3 Alderman Pat Long. “I  think it would be the responsible thing to do. However, too many people were calling and saying they didn’t want it. I think there has to be more of an educational process.”
The program that would require residents to purchase city-sanctioned garbage bags could raise about $3.5 million — more than any other fund-raising proposal — but critics insist the added costs are essentially another tax, and they are too steep for Manchester’s residents.
If Manchester were to implement a PAYT system, instead of purchasing regular trash bags residents would go into stores to buy brightly-colored bags that boast Manchester insignia and are created by the company Waste Zero (which makes the bags out of recycled content, ships them to retailers and conducts inventory management). Similar proposals have been accepted in 37 towns and cities across the state, according to Manchester city officials, but others municipalities, including Merrimack and Northampton have rejected it. 
The benefits
Mark Gomez, environmental programs manager with the city’s Department of Public Works (which has been planning the proposal), noted two primary reasons that DPW management is strongly behind the proposal. First, they expect to see the amount of trash generated by Manchester residents to be cut in half, because the costs of purchasing bags would encourage people to recycle and reuse instead of throwing things away. That would result in a $1.2 million savings in taxpayer dollars that could then be spent on other budget items. They expect the rate of recycling — a service that doesn’t cost taxpayers anything — to double.  
“We’ve seen across more than 800 communities across the U.S. an average of a 46 percent reduction of solid waste,” said Joshua Kolling-Perin, director of Public Engagement for Waste Zero. “That’s an enormous dollar savings because you are cutting your tipping fees.”
Second, studies based on cities that are comparable in size to Manchester have shown that implementing PAYT has resulted in doubling recycling rates, which helps conserve natural resources. 
Manchester has seen decreased in its trash trates twice, first when dual stream recycling was introduced in the 1990s. In 2012 when single stream recycling was introduced, the amount of material put into the recycling carts went from about four  thousand tons to six thousands tons. 
Manchester currently sends about 37,000 tons of trash into landfills each year and 6,000 tons of recyclables. All said, that’s 43,000 tons of waste in a given year. 
After Concord officials launched its program in 2008, the volume of solid waste “almost instantaneously” dropped by 40 percent, said Chip Chesley, director of Concord’s General Services Department. 
“It shocked us that it happened so quickly,” he said. “The response was much quicker than anticipated.” 
As Manchester studied the system, it looked specifically at Worcester, Mass. The city, which has a similar demographic as Manchester including many multi-unit buildings and an immigrant population, began its PAYT program in 2003. 
“The former public works director said it was one of the best things he ever did,” Gomez said. “People in Worcester 20 years ago said it could never work there. Maybe in small towns but not in a big city with the types of issues Worcester had. We hear a lot of the same thing here.”
Critics fear costs, litter 
About 50 residents attended two PAYT public information meetings in Manchester last April. According to Gomez, a third of the attendees supported the proposal, another third were adamantly opposed, and the rest were skeptical but open-minded. 
Critics state that requiring residents to pay the price of bags would be too much of a burden. It would be up to the Board of Mayor and Aldermen to decide the cost of the bags, but typically for cities comparable to Manchester, they sell for about $1.25 per 15-gallon bag and $2.00 for a thirty gallon bag. 
If a household produced three large bags of trash a week, that could amount to $312 dollars a year. Ed Osborne, ward five alderman, says that wouldn’t fly for his residents. 
“In this area here, they produce quite a bit of trash,” he said. “It would cost them a lot and they wouldn’t have the money in a lot of cases. Most people who rent wouldn’t want to take the time to go out and get trash bags. It’s just the way they live.”
But Kolling-Perin said a one-to-one comparison of how many bags households currently generate doesn’t accurately estimate the costs. Across all PAYT communities, the number of bags disposed per week reduces to 1.2 per household, because more items go into recycling. He said that averages about $124.80 each year. 
“This isn’t a projection,” he said. “It’s roughly the scale we are talking about.” 
There’s also a fear of increased litter — residents who don’t want to pay the added cost will turn to illegal dumping on the streets and in other people’s trash bins. 
“[Residents] are going to find a place to put it in somebody else’s barrel, or somebody else’s yard,” Osborn said. “They will find a place for it like they do now. In my ward and wards 4, 7, 3 and maybe 10, these are a little rougher wards and for them to go out and [buy] that bag and tag, I doubt it. I really doubt it.”
Kolling-Perin said there are already dumping problems in any city, and PAYT likely won’t have an impact.
“The very legitimate frustrations landlords have with tenants today are not going to get better [with] pay as you throw, but not going to get worse either.”
In Concord, officials worried they would see a number of non-city-authorized bags on the curb. On occasion, Chesley said, it does happen, but not often. When it happens, city staff go into the bag and try to find an address. 
“We’ll reach out and tell that person we found your trash, it really belongs in a purple bag,” he said. “After we do that, whichever inappropriate behavior we have, which is minimal, is corrected pretty quickly.”
WasteZero found that in comparable cities, within the first week of program implementation, that compliance rate was from 97 percent to 99 percent, and within three weeks, it’s above 99.5 percent, said Steve Lisauskas, Waste Zero’s vice president, who worked most closely with Gatsas and Public Works.  Public works has proposed bringing an additional inspector on to help enforce proper disposal early on, Lisauskas said. 
More decisions to make
If the program is implemented, city lawmakers would decide whether to require PAYT bag use for large multi-family residences, where trash often goes to one receptacle and tracking who is and isn’t using the bags could be difficult. 
“I strongly am against it,” said Manchester Ward 9 Alderman Barbara Shaw. “If Manchester was a town or a smaller city with more single-family homes I think maybe it might have some merit, but at this point there are too many multi-family homes, too many complexes with many apartments in them and the questions would arise, who  is going to purchase bags, the tenants, the land owners?”
Concord decided not to require the bags for condos and large apartment complexes (which total about 25 percent of residences). Instead, it provides single-source recycle and trash containers and bills building owners. The landlord or condominium association then considers whether to distribute the costs. 
In Manchester, the proposal was filed April 15, and it’s not yet clear whether the Board of Mayor and Aldermen will decide to consider it as part of the budget. 
As seen in the May 8th issue of the Hippo.

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