Trash talk: Automated pick-up could be coming to Pittsfield

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PITTSFIELD — Automated trash removal could be coming to the city, following a recommendation by the Resource Recovery Committee.

The proposed plan, which requires a change to city code and City Council approval, calls for new plastic toters — 35 gallons for trash and up to 95 gallons for recycling.

The seven member committee approved the plan at its Wednesday meeting. It spent about five months researching and discussing as many as a dozen options.

"I can't say enough good things about all the hard work that committee put in to investigate all possible options," said Ward 3 City Councilor Nicholas J. Caccamo.

Caccamo drafted a petition to switch to trash toters — specific plastic containers that would be distributed to most city residents. Those toters make automated trash removal possible.

Under the proposed plan, recycling would change to bi-weekly "single stream," meaning all recyclables can be discarded at the same time. Trash removal would continue on a weekly basis.

Caccamo sees at least three benefits to the proposed plan: Increased recycling; a more efficient system for trash disposal, which could save money long-term; and less loose trash and recycling blowing through city streets.

At 11 percent, the city's recycling rate is low compared to the rest of the state. A 2015 Department of Environmental Protection Recycling Participation Results Survey found 78 percent of respondents "always" recycle.

The toters proposed by the committee allow for the use of an automated system, where a driver uses an arm-like hoist to pick up and dump containers into the back of the vehicle. That system requires one employee per truck, compared to two or three when hand pickup is required at every stop.

Current city ordinance requires trash bags be placed in plastic bins at the curb. Still, many residents simply put bags out. Caccamo said that makes it easy for animals to open bags and spread trash, something members of the Board of Health have raised concerns about.

Commissioner of Public Utilities Bruce Collingwood, who administers the city's trash and recycling programs, said he calculated the city removes trash from 17,552 living units in the city. Residences range from single-family homes to four-family owner-occupied properties.

The committee's recommendation for trash and recycling included an option for a smaller recycling toter, for households with fewer people, and purchasing another 35-gallon trash container or overflow bags for households that generate more trash.

Collingwood said the price of a second trash toter, and the additional collection effort, as well as overflow bags is still being determined.

He estimated the capital cost for the toters at $113,000, which he said would be annualized over 10 years.

The FY17 budget includes just over $3 million for trash and recyclable collection and disposal.

"Trash is not free," he pointed out. "It is part of the real estate tax base but it is not free."

Members of the committee said they understand there may be concerns about the proposed changes, including a 35-gallon trash container being too small for some households.

Collingwood, who is not a committee member but works with it because he oversees trash removal, said education will be one way to address those concerns.

If the proposed plan moves forward, he said the city will educate residents about ways to reduce trash through increased recycling and composting.

"If I am willing to work with a 35-gallon toter with four people in my house I think others can, too," he said.

Mayor Linda M. Tyer reactivated the committee last fall to identify efficiencies for the city's waste and recycling removal. In September, Covanta Pittsfield, a waste processor serving much of Berkshire County, announced it planned to close in 2017. The City Council approved an emergency measure in October that keeps the plant open at least another four years.

Reach staff writer Carrie Saldo at 413-496-6221 or @carriesaldo


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