Portsmouth approves pay-as-you-throw program

Participating residents will start buying bags sometime after Jan. 1

By Jim McGaw
Posted 11/14/17

PORTSMOUTH — Those special trash bags are coming.

The Town Council Monday night voted unanimously to start a pay-as-you-throw (PAYT) program at the transfer station early next …

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Portsmouth approves pay-as-you-throw program

Participating residents will start buying bags sometime after Jan. 1


PORTSMOUTH — Those special trash bags are coming.

The Town Council Monday night voted unanimously to start a pay-as-you-throw (PAYT) program at the transfer station early next year. 

No sticker fee was set Monday; the council will take up that task Nov. 27. All sides agree, however, that residents will be paying far more to get rid of their trash and recyclables going forward.

Switching to a PAYT system, however, will not only reduce the amount of waste going into the landfill, but save residents money as well, according to Kristen Brown, a national expert on solid waste reduction and recycling incentive programs who made a presentation to the council Monday. WasteZero partners with more than 800 municipalities around the country to reduce the amount of solid waste that is landfilled and burned. 

Without a PAYT program, she said residents who continue to take their trash to the transfer station would see their sticker fee jump to about $317.50 next year. Add $27 to account for the average cost of trash bags purchased by residents, and that comes to $344.50 — more than twice the current $160 sticker fee.

“The cost of trash is going up and will continue to increase,” said Ms. Brown, pointing to fewer landfills and incinerators. “Nobody wants a new landfill … or incinerator in their backyard.”

The PAYT program, however, incentivizes residents to recycle more because they must pay for each bag of garbage they produce, she said. With PAYT, Ms. Brown said the annual cost for residents to  dispose of solid waste and recyclables at the transfer station should run anywhere from about $230 to $290, depending on the amount of trash a household generates. (See chart above.)

Three different bags

Residents who participate in the program will have to buy special bags of varying sizes. A 30-gallon bag would cost $2, a 15-gallon bag, 90 cents; and an 8-gallon bag, 80 cents. 

Ms. Brown said most of the bags’ fee — $1.70 in the case of the largest one — would go toward the cost of disposing trash. The bags would be purchased in bulk by stores such as Clements’ Marketplace and sold to customers with no markup. (Mr. Hamilton said the stores would welcome the bags because it would get customers in to do more shopping.)

Nothing else would change at the transfer station. There will still be bins for used clothes, household construction, yard waste, books and other items.

Ms. Brown said she has analyzed the impact of PAYT programs instituted in municipalities around the country and the findings were consistent everywhere.

“When you move to this program, your overall trash drops by about 50 percent,” she said.

Ms. Brown said going with a PAYT system will also reduce tipping fees by more than $100,000 annually — 44 percent reduction — due to the decreased amount of trash being hauled to the landfill. That translates to a 9 percent drop in the total cost of operations, she said.

On Oct. 23 the council voted to award the contract to run the transfer station to the current operator, J.R. Vinagro, following an earlier decision to stick with the station rather than switching to curbside pickup. Vinagro submitted the lower of two responsive total bid packages — $1.11 million.

‘It works’

Bob Moylan, who was public works commissioner in Worcester, Mass. for 22 years, said his city didn’t switch to PAYT in 1993 because it was environmentally minded or wanted to boost recycling rates. 

“We did it because we had a budget crisis and we had to save money,” he said. “I’m here to tell you it works; you will reduce your trash.”

In the first year Worcester, which has a curbside program, went from producing 45,000 tons of trash to 22,000 tons, Mr. Moylan said. The amount of waste went down so dramatically that the collection crew was reduced from 48 people to 16, he said.

Citizens gravitated toward the program, Mr. Moylan said. Once a municipality starts a PAYT program, they won’t want to switch back, he said.

Ted Pietz, chairman of the town’s Solid Waste/Recycling Committee, said the panel strongly supports PAYT. He asked the council to consider a sliding fee scale to make the PAYT bags more affordable for elderly and low-income residents. 

Mr. Pietz also said the bags should be distinctly marked for easy identification to help prevent “cheating” at the transfer station. 

Under the new contract with Vinagro, an extra person will be at the transfer station to monitor what residents are dumping.

“This isn’t going to eliminate the cheating, but it will mitigate it,” Town Administrator Richard Rainer Jr. said.

pay-as-you-throw, Portsmouth Town Council, Portsmouth transfer station, recycling

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