Selectmen Approve Automated Trash & Recycling Pick-Up

WILMINGTON, MA — At last week’s Board of Selectmen Meeting, the Board unanimously approved the Town Manager’s recommendation to enter into a 10-year agreement with Russell Disposal of Somerville, the town’s current recycling contractor, to bring both automated trash and recycling curbside collection to Wilmington.  Automated collection could start as early as July 1.

Public Works Director Mike Woods began the hour-long discussion by explaining how, in December, the town conducted a “request for information” from companies that provided automated trash and recycling collection.  The town researched four of the companies who responded and ultimately chose to move forward with Russell Disposal.

Kevin Douglas, of Russell Disposal, then presented a power-point presentation to the board, summarizing the program and its benefits to residents and the community as a whole

What would change:

  • Trash and recycling will no longer be collected by humans, but by a mechanical arm on collection trucks that lift and discard trash and recycling from standardize wheeled carts.
  • Households will stop using their existing trash barrels and recycling bins.
  • Households will receive one Town-issued 64-gallon wheeled cart to be used as their primary means to trash disposal.
  • Households will receive one Town-issued 95-gallon wheeled cart to be used for placing recyclables curbside.  The new recycling cart will be seven times larger than the current standard bin.
  • Households can rent an additional 64-gallon wheeled cart for trash disposal for a $150 annual fee.  Based on other participating communities, Douglas believes, however, only 1%-1.5% of Wilmington households will request a second cart and, after the first year, at least 30% will give back the extra cart.  Woods believes 2%-3% would request a second cart.
  • Households can also purchase overflow bags in packs of five for $10.  Bags will be sold at stores within the community.  These bags would be placed next to the 64-gallon wheeled cart.  Douglas notes that these are often popular during the weeks of July 4th and Christmas.

What would remain the same:

  • Trash will still be collected weekly.
  • Recycling will still be collected every-other-week.  Your current recycling day will remain the same.
  • Single stream recycling will continue.
  • Bulk item disposal will remain the same, with one bulky item collected each week at no charge.
  • White goods (e.g., AC, freezer) collection will remain the same.
  • CRT (e.g., TV, computer monitors) collection will remain the same.
  • Leaves & Yard Waste collection will remain the same.

What benefits would the town reap with the proposed plan:

  • Reduce overall volume of trash collected in the community, therefore reducing disposal costs.  Douglas projects a 20% decrease in trash volume, resulting in approximately $120,000 a year in savings to the town.
  • Increase Wilmington’s recycling rate. Wilmington’s current rate is only 17%.  Douglas projects the rate will quickly increase to at least 28%-32% with automated pick-up.
  • Create a cleaner and more uniformed community
  • Minimize animal scavenging and decrease litter. Carts are more wind & odor resistant than normal barrels and bins.
  • No longer require residents to purchase their own trash barrels. The wheeled carts are easily to move.
  • Provide residents with more sturdy & durable wheeled carts, that come with 10-year warranties. Town will replace damaged carts.
  • Uniform nature of the program makes it more equitable to taxpayers. Those who are heavy recyclers are no longer subsidizing those who are weak recyclers.  Weak recyclers now have a financial incentive to recycle more.

Douglas discussed that communities, all across the state, are turning to automation to reduce trash, increase recycling and save money.  Billerica, Burlington, Tewksbury and Wakefield already have some form of automated collection.  All are realizing success.   Douglas emphasized, in fact, that no Massachusetts community that’s made the jump to automated collection has switched back to traditional pick-up.

Douglas outlined some of the public outreach efforts Russell Disposal would coordinate with the town, including utilizing: informational roadshow sessions with Q&A; town website; WCTV broadcast; mailing/flyers; Town Topics bulletin; and a display of sample carts at Town Hall and at Town Events.

While ultimately supporting the Town Manager’s proposal, the Selectmen were not easily sold on the plan.

Selectman Michael Newhouse struggled with how to weigh the anticipated cost savings that the automated collection would create against the inconvenience it may cause residents when they miss a trash pick-up, since they now have less barrels.

“People should be able to get a mulligan every once and while when they have stuff going on [that forces them to miss a pick-up day.]  I would like us to be able to accommodate those rare occasions.”

Selectman Michael McCoy was particularly hesitant, initially requesting that the vote be tabled and taken up at a future meeting.

“Our claim to fame in the town of Wilmington is that we have no user fees for trash, bus transportation, kindergarten, sports, etc.”

McCoy came around to the idea, however, in part, after listening to his colleagues Lou Cimaglia and Mike Champoux emphasize that, according to Woods and Douglas, 97%-99% of residents will not pay any sort of fee for trash or recycling pick-up, as they won’t request extra carts.

Selectman Mike Champoux was also torn, noting his knee-jerk reaction was to oppose the proposal.

“I like what we have.  It’s very convenient, but I’m also receptive to this,” said Champoux. “If we can save the community some money, that’s certainly important.  And increasing recycling is just the right thing to do, as long as we’re not creating an undue burden on our residents.”

Town Manager Jeff Hull stressed that an educational campaign will begin soon to inform residents of the coming changes.

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