Pittsfield scraps plan for tote-based trash, recycling system

PITTSFIELD — The toter plan is in the trash bin.

Despite Mayor Linda Tyer's unwavering support for the tote-based waste management proposal, her office announced Tuesday that the city will not be moving forward with the plan, because of continued concerns from the community. Since Tyer and city Finance Director Matt Kerwood proposed the tote system last fall, the city has heard pushback from residents and city councilors who were concerned about the upfront cost of about $1.4 million, and the ability of older and disabled individuals being able to maneuver the large barrels. 

The City Council in January declined to vote on the matter, and kicked it back to the mayor.

"In recognition of these perspectives, and after much consideration and review, the City of Pittsfield will not be moving forward with this initiative," Tyer said in a statement released Tuesday afternoon.

Under the plan, residents would have received a 45-gallon tote for trash and a 96-gallon tote for all recycling, which would no longer require separation; they would need to purchase overflow bags for $2 to $3 for pickup beyond the containers provided.

After the initial outlay for the totes and the newly automated service, officials said, it would save $150,803 with 20 percent waste reduction in the first year, and $212,139 with a 25 percent waste reduction after that. Any additional savings would be tied to continued reduction in solid waste.

"While our belief has not wavered in the plan's potential for the city's enrichment, we also understand that many still have unresolved questions and concerns about the plan and its impact on the community," Tyer said in her statement. "We recognize that the success of a program such as this greatly benefits from the understanding, support and trust of those it will most impact."

Ward 6 Councilor John Krol, who wasn't a supporter of the tote plan, said that he thinks the city needs to come up with a plan to reduce the amount of trash collected in the city by addressing the minority of residents who are "heavy users," disposing of large amounts of trash each week, and ensuring that people who own property outside Pittsfield aren't dropping off their trash in the city. 

"I am an eternal optimist. I really do feel that solid waste reform is sensible. Solid waste reform is doable. I do believe that in my heart and soul," Krol said Tuesday.

"I do believe that there is a way to do this that will be less burdensome on our senior citizens and give us real savings."

Krol said his main issue with the tote proposal was with the upfront cost to the city.

"The savings, at best, were in the ballpark of about $200,000 a year," Krol said. "On the cost side, for me, the ends didn't justify the means."

Krol, along with Ward 1 Councilor Helen Moon and Ward 5 Councilor Donna Todd Rivers, had brought forward the petition to investigate alternatives to the tote-based system. 

This month, the council heard a presentation from a representative of Waste Zero, a company that moves municipalities to bag-based "pay as you throw" trash pickup programs.

Waste Zero would set similar trash pickup limits to those proposed under Tyer's plan, but haulers would pick up bags in place of totes.

Waste Zero manufactures the bags in various sizes and colors, and sells them to cities and local stores, where residents can purchase them. The city would distribute "at cost" coupons for the bags, he said. For example, to mirror the proposed tote program, the city could provide residents annually with 52 coupons to cover the cost of 52 bags at 45 gallons — or 104 coupons for 23-gallon bags — and when residents run out of coupons, they would purchase their own.

Steve Lisauskas, vice president of Waste Zero, said the program could save the city about $400,000 annually between overflow bag revenue and disposal savings, and there are no costs associated with it, upfront or otherwise.

"The opportunity is that it can accomplish the goals that were set out for the toters without the handling issues for toters," Krol said about the Waste Zero program. "As the dust settles, we may ultimately see a way forward." 

Ward 2 City Councilor Kevin Morandi said he'd also like to see solid waste reform in Pittsfield, but neither the tote program nor Waste Zero program were the way to do it. 

Like Krol, Morandi also took issue with the upfront costs of the tote bins. 

As for the bag program, Morandi said it "defeats the purpose." 

"We're trying to get bags off the ground now," he said. 

The key to reform is enforcing the town bylaw that is already in existence, which requires solid waste collected by the city to not exceed a suitable container no larger than 32 gallons, and to increase education about recycling in schools.

In January, Councilor At Large Pete White voted down sending the tote plan ordinance back to the mayor and said he felt it was important to vote yes or no on the ordinance.

"We need to reduce our trash, and I think we should have talked about (the toter proposal) more at the councilor level," White said Tuesday. "In the end, it might have been the same result, though I think it had a lot of merit." 

White said that the city needs to put "everything on the table" in terms of reducing waste, and he's willing to entertain the Waste Zero bag plan, but he believes that the totes were a better idea. 

Unlike the totes, the bags would be more of a burden on residents, White said. 

Councilor At Large Earl Persip III's feelings mimic White's. 

"I'm very disappointed. I think the trash program that we have, people take advantage of it," Persip said. "I hate to see money literally thrown out the window like that." 

Persip filed a petition to review the current bylaws around solid waste management, and how to better enforce them, at the next councilors meeting, March 27.

"I preferred the toters over the pay-as-you-go program, but at this point I think we need to address some sort of trash program," he said, adding that the city's recycling rate of 11 percent is one of the worst in the state.

Haven Orecchio-Egresitz can be reached at horecchio@berkshireeagle.com, @HavenEagle on Twitter and 413-770-6977.


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