Bangor debates details of pay-as-you-throw trash collection system

Posted July 20, 2011, at 4:35 p.m.
Last modified July 20, 2011, at 6:29 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — What started as a regular meeting of the City Council’s infrastructure committee Tuesday evening turned into a show-and-tell session and mild debate once the topic turned to implementation of Bangor’s proposed pay-as-you-throw trash collection and single-stream recycling system.

Matters including the types of trash bags and recycling containers, their cost and the official date of implementation were discussed by the five councilors and committee members, Public Works Director Dana Wardwell, recycling coordinator Jerry Hughes and City Manager Kathy Conlow.

“I fully support this program, but we need to show residents it’s a benefit to them and not a burden,” said City Councilor Patricia Blanchette, one of five committee members present who proposed an alternate starting date for the program.

The number of starting date proposals was even higher than the number of trash bags displayed to council members by Wardwell, who filled them with trash culled from his own office.

Bags of all sorts of sizes, thicknesses and colors were displayed — from orange, 15-gallon bags from neighboring Brewer to yellow see-through, lined blue, and green versions ranging in thickness from 1.5 to 1.75 millimeters.

“I want to see my neighbor’s trash,” Councilor Richard Bronson joked as Wardwell hefted each bag, one by one, to the top of the speaker’s podium in the council chambers for councilors to inspect, lift and handle.

Committee members Bronson, Blanchette, Nelson Durgin, Charles Longo and Chairman Geoffrey Gratwick discussed the cost — $1 to $2 per bag for 15-gallon and 33-gallon, respectively — the imposition of weight limits per bag, and the size, shape and availability of recycling containers.

“We may need bigger recycling bins, and not everyone can lug one of those big containers home in their car from the hardware store or Home Depot,” noted Blanchette.

But the biggest point of debate was the official start date for pay-as-you-throw.

Jan. 1 was the date mentioned most often at the start, but councilors started suggesting alternative dates — from Feb. 12 (the anniversary of Bangor’s incorporation as a city) to March 1, April 1, June 30 and even the year 2018 — because of weather, holiday and budgetary concerns.

“The first thing we really need is a date so we can build you a schedule,” said Conlow. “There’s a lot of confusion out there. Some residents are assuming we’re already doing single-stream recycling and separating their trash.”

At the suggestion of Wardwell, the infrastructure committee has given the Public Works Department permission to request bids for a promotional and educational ad campaign for pay-as-you-throw.

“We’ve presented an initial budget on what it may look like with a half year of our current program and half a year of single-stream PAYT,” Wardwell said.

The program has been under serious discussion for the better part of two years, but as it gets closer and closer to official implementation, many details remain to be ironed out.

“I would think by mid-August or early September we’d have final word on how and when to proceed,” said Hughes.

While Bangor conducted no feasibility study or official survey of residents or other municipalities using pay-as-you-throw and similar programs, Wardwell said city officials have been busy gathering information on existing programs from Brunswick to Brewer. Brewer officials did conduct a study and also evaluated recycling companies before implementing single-stream recycling and pay-as-you-throw.

“We value Brewer’s input, but we’ve gotten a lot of [other] localities’ input as well,” said Wardwell. “We’ve done a lot of research and called around to a lot of different communities.”

What is missing is significant public feedback.

“We’’re not hearing a lot of input from the community. We did have three resident listening sessions this year in March, April and May, but we only had maybe 30 people show up in all,” said Wardwell. “I don’t think it’ll be a hot-button issue until people have to start paying for it.”

The infrastructure committee will discuss implementation and may vote on recommendation to the full council at its next meeting at 5 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 2.

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