Trash collection company buys out Republic Services

For years, Pittsfield officials have sought an alternative to the city's current curbside trash program. Three councilors have proposed a pay-as-you-throw system that they say could save the city about $500,000 a year.

PITTSFIELD — A trio of councilors is taking a crack at dealing with one of the city’s perennial issues — curbside trash collections.

A new ordinance proposed by Councilors Peter Marchetti, Pete White and Earl Persip III would place the city’s trash pickup under a bag-based “pay-as-you-throw” system.

If the ordinance is approved, residents would be required to place their garbage inside an official trash bag, either in or out of barrels, before it can be removed by haulers. Residents would receive coupons that would allow them to purchase two 15-gallon bags per week — a total of 104 each year — at cost, which shakes out to about 24 to 28 cents each, Marchetti told The Eagle.

If residents run out of coupons, they would have to pay full price for every bag after that. Marchetti said each additional 15-gallon bag would cost 80 cents, and 30-gallon bags would cost $1.50 each.

For years, many have agreed that changes are needed to the city’s unlimited curbside pickup service, which can be costly, messy and does little to encourage recycling. But, previous efforts to reform the system have been contentious, and ultimately failed.

Marchetti said the proposal, which he said could save the city about $500,000 a year, is a starting point, and that he wants to give ample opportunity for the public and councilors to weigh in. The council Tuesday, which had not taken up the matter by press deadline, was expected to refer the proposal to the Committee as a Whole, which Marchetti said was expected to take up Feb. 10.

“I would expect it to be a lively discussion, and maybe many amendments or changes being proposed to the program,” he said.

The council president said the proposal also might be referred to other subcommittees for additional debate, and could undergo revisions.

“I want a discussion, a conversation to begin as to what would work, and what we as a community can buy into to address an issue that we all know is there,” Marchetti said.

The city would contract with Waste Zero, a company that manufactures bags in various sizes and colors, then sells them to cities and local stores, where residents purchase them.

The new proposal is similar to one that Steve Lisauskas, a Waste Zero vice president, outlined during a 2018 presentation to councilors. The presentation happened after Councilor Helen Moon and former Councilors Donna Todd Rivers and John Krol moved to investigate alternatives to a tote-based plan that failed to pass the council.

Shortly after, Mayor Linda Tyer's office announced it would not be moving forward with the tote-based plan, after residents and elected officials voiced concerns about the proposal’s upfront costs and the size of the totes, which, some said, would make them difficult to maneuver.

After the presentation, some councilors continued talking about “pay-as-you-throw” with contemporaries in the Massachusetts Municipal Association, White said.

Saying goodbye to unlimited curbside trash pickup could produce savings and free up money for other purposes, White said. Depending on how implementation goes, he said, “We could save a significant amount of money that could be put to other uses in the city.”

Revenue from overflow bag sales would generate approximately $376,000, while an expected decline in garbage tonnage would produce a savings of approximately $220,000, Marchetti said.

The pay-as-you-throw program would encourage recycling and incentivize residents to decrease trash volume, he said. The anticipated rise in recyclable tonnage would shake out to the city paying about $95,000 more for recycling.

White said the program stands to have a positive environmental impact.

“If you want to be green and environmentally sound, you can’t have unlimited trash,” he said.

To further encourage recycling, the proposal also calls for the city to implement a rewards for recycling program. Marchetti claimed residents in other communities with such a program have saved about $127 a year.

The proposal requires a change to city code. It would make no change to the bulky waste-disposal program, said Marchetti. 

Persip noted that the city’s current waste-disposal system is not free, but is funded through taxes. A resident who disposes one bag weekly is “paying the same price” as someone who tosses many times that amount, he said. 

“We definitely have to make a change in our trash system, and I think this is the fairest way for everyone to pay their fair share,” he said.

Waste tonnage increased about 17 percent last year compared with the previous year, said Commissioner of Public Utilities Ricardo Morales. He and Finance Director Matt Kerwood speculated that the coronavirus pandemic contributed to the increase, with more people generating waste that is picked up through the city’s curbside removal service.

“Some of this is attributable to COVID and the fact that people are now home more, and generating more trash,” Kerwood said.

Under another proposal stuck in subcommittee, residents would be permitted to place no more than 64 gallons of trash curbside. Marchetti said he has concerns that garbage could end up in city parks or yards because of the cap on disposal.

Amanda Burke can be reached at aburke@berkshireeagle.com, on Twitter @amandaburkec and 413-496-6296.

Amanda Burke covers Pittsfield City Hall for The Berkshire Eagle. An Ithaca, New York native, she previously worked at The Herald News of Fall River and the Fitchburg Sentinel & Enterprise. Find her on Twitter at @amandaburkec.