Despite the unsuccessful efforts to shake up Pittsfield’s waste-removal policies, all the councilors seem to agree that the city must find a better way to deal with trash. There is broad consensus on the need to reduce annual costs, encourage recycling and not overly burden residents who are already paying for these services through their taxes.
When the City Council took another look at a “pay-as-you-throw” trash plan (PAYT), it was a good-faith effort at streamlining waste removal while easing the price tag. Nevertheless, it met immediate and predictable headwinds. While they’re in the mood for reconsidering previous proposals, we humbly suggest councilors dust off the tote plan pitched by Mayor Linda Tyer in 2017.
The council’s PAYT proponents say the plan could save the city half a million dollars a year. It would do so, however, by dumping costs and procedural complexity directly into residents’ laps by charging households for trash bags and only allowing the specific bags sold by the city to be dumped.
Several councilors balked at the idea of reshaping the city’s waste removal policy on the backs of their constituents, especially in a time of considerable economic anxiety, so the PAYT proposal was tabled.
The tote plan, however, could prove a happy medium. It’s a model that’s been successfully adopted by municipalities across the state, and could produce considerable savings for the city — around $200,000 a year. While that wouldn’t slash the annual price tag as much as the PAYT proposal, the tote plan could realize those savings without added cost or complication to residents.
The tote plan also would likely boost recycling, replacing the small blue box residents now have with a 96-gallon tote on wheels. And it would be single-stream, instead of making residents separate bottles and cans from paper and cardboard.
The tote plan is not without trade-offs, as many pointed out when it was initially floated. The totes are bigger than average trash barrels, which allows for more waste removal but might be more unwieldy for some — though they would have large wheels and handles that make it easy to roll them to their destination compared to lugging a traditional barrel. It would also present an upfront cost for the city to implement — about $1.3 million in the 2017 proposal, which would likely be offset by savings after the first several years.
The City Council’s initial pushback to the mayor’s tote proposal was also tinged by election-season political considerations — particularly those of then-Council President Melissa Mazzeo, who was preparing a mayoral challenge campaign.
Since that election, however, the council’s factional composition has shifted. Mayor Tyer’s home rehab proposal, for example, was retailored several times but consistently met a brick wall when taken up by the Mazzeo-led council.
More recently, however, the At Home in Pittsfield program found a more sympathetic council willing to give the mayor’s proposal a shot.
That might be the case if the council gets another bite at the trash tote plan, as well. It could be a good opportunity for collaboration between the council and the mayor’s office on an issue that warrants progress but hasn’t seen much.
In tabling the PAYT discussion, the council has signaled that it wants to wait until it can get more public input before a serious overhaul of the city’s waste removal practices — a wise move, as any major change will, for better or worse, considerably affect the daily lives of residents across the city. And if their letters to the editor are any indication, they have very strong opinions about the PAYT proposal and trash policy in general.
If city officials are serious about a broad discussion on rethinking Pittsfield’s trash tactics and seeking more sustainable policy, the tote plan is worth reconsideration.