Government Public Works

West Hartford Will Consider Solutions to 'Trash Challenges'

Photo credit: Ronni Newton
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A series of public meetings are scheduled for residents to learn about ‘SMART’ as a possible new approach to West Hartford’s waste management.

Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Photo credit: Ronni Newton (we-ha.com file photo)

By Ronni Newton

West Hartford is considering a major transformation of the town’s waste management and the public’s input will be critical as the process moves forward, beginning with three upcoming public meetings.

Director of Public Works John Phillips is confident that a “Save Money and Reduce Trash” (SMART) program will help dramatically reduce the amount of waste generated and at the same time save money for the town and for residents. A key aspect of a SMART program would mean that trash collection would no longer be paid for through taxes, but rather would be funded through the sale of municipal trash bags.

If implemented, a 30-gallon bag would cost $2 and would be available in grocery, drug, and other stores where residents typically purchase plastic trash bags. A tall kitchen bag (the 13-gallon size that fits in most standard kitchen trash barrels) would cost $1.25, and smaller bags would cost $0.80. The town would receive the money from the sale of the bags, and that in turn would fund the trash removal budget. Although the contents would have to be placed in the muncipal bags, curbside collection of the green barrels would not be changed.

“It’s a pocketbook issue for most people,” Phillips said. But although people may initially bristle at the thought of having to “pay” for their trash collection through the purchase of bags, he said that most residents will likely save money.

The bags are slightly more expensive than what most people currently buy – but the weekly additional cost of bags would be less than a cup of coffee. Households currently pay approximately $200 per year through their taxes for waste disposal, Phillips said.

Phillips wants to communicate and wants the public to listen before any decisions are made. “It’s important to keep an open mind,” he said.

“The public perception is that it’s garbage, and they shouldn’t have to pay to get rid of it,” said Phillips.

Phillips hopes for a good turnout at the upcoming public information sessions, and he plans to explain how a SMART program will work and the financial considerations, as well as why it’s necessary to reduce waste. There’s a state mandate to divert 60 percent of waste into recycling, composting, reuse by 2024 (the current level is 35 percent), but it’s not just a requirement that is prompting West Hartford and other municipalities to look at alternatives.

“Our community, like many others throughout the nation but especially in the Northeast, is facing increasing cost for disposal of waste. It is imperative for West Hartford that we not stay complacent. We need to determine as a community the most cost effective and environmentally responsible way to handle this issue in the coming years,” Mayor Shari Cantor said.

The state is rapidly losing capacity to incinerate its trash, Phillips said. Existing plants may be rebuilt, Phillips said, but “we’ll never build another incinerator, never site another landfill. Where will it go? What will the transportation costs be?” said Phillips. It’s an environmental issue as well. “Do we really want to throw waste in someone’s backyard hole? Is burning something we really should rely on?” he asked.

Existing methods of diverting waste to recycling aren’t going far enough. “We need to deal with our capacities. We have no choice but to deal with waste,” said Phillips.

Kristen Brown, vice president of municipal partnerships with WasteZero, has been working as a consultant for the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) educating residents and implementing SMART programs throughout the state. “It’s a mechanism to make people think,” she said.

The larger communities throughout the state, the ones with public trash services, are being targeted for SMART programs, she said. Both West Hartford and New Britain are in the second phase of the process, where stakeholder and public outreach are taking place.

Other Connecticut communities that have participated in the first phase of the process, most of which are also moving to the next step, are Bridgeport, Waterbury, Milford, Hartford, Enfield, Farmington, New London, Groton, Meriden, Manchester, Stamford, North Haven, and Shelton.

Example of a municipal waste bag used in a pay-as-you-throw system. Photo courtesy of John Philips

Example of a municipal waste bag used in a pay-as-you-throw system. Photo courtesy of John Philips

Brown said that statistics indicate that most West Hartford residents will likely not even fill one 30-gallon bag per week under a pay as you throw program. Current per capita waste production in West Hartford is 710 pounds per year – approximately 20,000 tons per year for the town as a whole – and that’s likely to drop by 40 percent the moment a SMART program is implemented.

Residents would think twice about ensuring that they are recycling all they can – including textiles. “The average person throws away 85 pounds of textiles per year,” Brown said. There are places throughout the area that will accept used textiles right now, and the ultimate hope is to incorporate textile, and food waste recycling into the SMART program.

Many residents have expressed a desire for weekly rather than biweekly recycling, but that would carry a $1 million price tag. The savings generated through SMART could fund the extra pick-up, Phillips said.

Brown said that about 45 percent of communities in Massachusetts and a significant perecentage of communities in Maine already have SMART programs. Rhode Island will implement a statewide program this week. It’s mandatory in Vermont, Washington, and Oregon. Most of California has voluntarily implemented a SMART program, and it’s been a commonplace practice throughout Europe for years, she said.

“It’s not a new concept, but just a hard-core change [for us],” Phillips said.

Meetings are scheduled in various locations, in the evening as well as during the day, with the hope that a large number of people will be able to attend. The schedule is:

  • Wednesday, Jan. 18, at 7 p.m., in the Town Hall Auditorium
  • Wednesday, Jan.25, at 7 p.m., in the King Philip Middle School Auditorium
  • Wednesday, Feb. 1, at 2 p.m., at Elmwood Community Center

Representatives from Public Works, DEEP, WasteZero, and from other towns that have experience with SMART will be in attendance at the forums.

A likely question from residents will be how a change to a SMART program will impact taxes. “If we shift to this we will need less taxes to cover the town’s expenses,” Town Manager Ron Van Winkle said. The immediate savings “will impact the tax rate,” he said. However, Van Winkle added that there are many budget drivers other than waste management, and plenty of fiscal challenges given the uncertain amount of state funding the town may receive in the future.

Van Winkle doesn’t plan to incorporate SMART into the FY2018 budget he is working on right now, but he wants to show it in the budget documents as an option for the Town Council to consider.

“We need to begin with educating our community on the facts and trends,” Cantor said. “This will include an analysis of what has worked in other neighboring communities. Once we have the opportunity to educate we can have an informed discussion of our options and the best way forward for our town.”

Treating waste as a utility like gas, electricity, or water, will lead to better stewardship of it, Phillips said. “We separate everything else, but we drop all of our organization skills when it comes to the garbage,” he said.

“It’s an illness. This is like the medication. It’s going to be painful going down but after it’s done we’ll be much more healthy,” said Phillips.

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16 Comments

  • I have been regularly recycling old worn/torn/stained clothes at Salvation Army right in bishops corner for years. They are glad to take them as they can sell to textile recyclers. I just leave a bag in my closet that I fill up throughout the years with unusable clothing and drop off when full.

  • $2.00 is way overpriced for a 30 gallon bag, where do they think people shop, and the town isn’t going to save any money they will just spend it elsewhere. Maybe the town should shop at Walmart.Prices at Walmart, Great Value 24.9 cents each,Heafty 26.0, Heafty 19.7, Heafty 34.3 every bad is way less than a $1.00 each. Or go to Home Depot, bags are just as cheap.

  • Did you save on property taxes when leaf pick up was eliminated ?
    Did you save on state taxes when casino gambling was approved and taxed ?
    Did you save on health insurance when the affordable care act moved new people into the insurance pool and out of the emergency room?
    Its hard enough to dispose of things now but al least if it fits in bucket it goes. In the new system it will have to fit in a special bag that has to fit in the bucket.
    Don’t be fooled–when gov’t. moves things out of the tax system it is just a back door way for them to take in more money and you to keep less.
    The definition of insanity is to do the same thing again and expect a different outcome.
    Don’t be fooled again.

  • The town will find other ways to blow the money if there was a savings. Your taxes will not go down. I love how they think most households will only use a 30 gallon bag per week. Who are they kidding. This will also increase illegal dumping in which DPW will clean up

  • My trash can is never full (family of 2) but my recycle bin is chock full every two weeks. I don’t see why paying for trash bags would help me, are they hoping it would encourage others to recycle? How would they possibly enforce this when the article above says: Although the contents would have to be placed in the muncipal bags, curbside collection of the green barrels would not be changed.

    Is there going to be a trash bag monitor, looking at the color of the bags we’re throwing in there?

  • This is just another ploy for the town to exhort more money from us for a service our taxes should cover. Maybe we should be asking why our council and town manager can’t do the job they are task with. Their lack of fiduciary responsibility is border line criminal. How about instead of worrying about the cost of the trash, which by the way is pennies of the overall budget, and instead tackle real savings and look at the towns payroll, insurance, and defined benefits. It is time for the town’s employees to join the real world of benefits and pay their fair share, like the rest of us do in the private sector with our high deductible plans.
    Illegal dumping will result from this measure and the cost of a few clean ups from illegal dumps will end up costing the town more then any savings they might have realized from this program.
    When leaf pick up went away, we saw no savings. What I saw was people burning leaves. In fact, I have seen this take place year after year since the pick up went away. It will not surprise me at all to see people begin to burn their trash.
    If I am forced to pay for these trash bags, I would make sure they are absolutely full before putting them in the can. What that means is I will have more waste sitting around for longer periods of time. This is sure to give rise to increased wildlife activity which will also create additional problems.
    I understand paying for trash service in rural areas but that is expected. The taxes are lower and you expect to have less services because of this. West Hartford is not a rural area and out taxes are much higher. We as residents expect a simple service such as trash collection, to be provided.
    This is just my 2 cents.

  • can it. most towns just leave the actual full bags on the ground so its visable that a purchase was made.Pick it up manually… we have gone from trash buggy’s picking up the waste to todays system which works. leave it be. I can not even believe this is a option. towns without garbage and use as you go systems finds municipal barrels full. garbage next to them. you’ll need weekly recycle to take our garbage away….sheesh leave the system be, it works

  • All the forums are on a Wednesday. The 2 pm one is at the same time as elementary school dismissal. Not well planned.

  • With the advances in waste to energy technology it is short sighted to dismiss incineration as a viable, cost effective and environmentally sustainable option for the long term solution to the disposal of municipal solid waste. The costs and environmental impacts of transportation of the waste to someone else’s back yard are huge. Waste to energy is the prominent waste disposal option in Europe. Palm Beach County, Florida recently completed the first waste to energy plant built in the US in over 20 years and by all accounts is one of the cleanest and efficient facilities in the world today.

  • We’re going to get a tax credit of $200 each household, right? Bahahaha, just kidding. What a misrepresentation to say residents will save money. Only if we each get a $200 tax reduction, which we know is NOT happening. At least tell the truth about it. It will saveTHE TOWN money. If it’s for the greater good. That is good, but don’t pee on my shoes & tell me it’s raining.

  • Residents should definitely attend these meetings and then make up their minds. I kept an open mind and listened to a full presentation, asked a couple reasonably tough questions, and concluded this idea actually makes lots of sense and puts WeHa on good footing.

    Yes, it is taking an existing non-fee service and making it a fee service, which is why the torches and pitchforks come out in the comments. I started with the same concerns about negative side effects, but they turned out to be minimal elsewhere. This sort of change is now really popular with the other places that did this.

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