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Trash automation is picking up

Using an automated trash system truck, Tony DiCesare rarely has to leave his vehicle while working a route in Abington.

Debee Tlumacki for The Boston Globe

Using an automated trash system truck, Tony DiCesare rarely has to leave his vehicle while working a route in Abington.

The days of trash workers hopping on and off the backs of trucks are coming to an end in more communities south of Boston.

With Abington just passing its one-year anniversary on Aug. 1, towns such as Weymouth and Braintree are poised to join the use of an automated, two-cart — one for trash, one for recyclables — disposal system.

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While Braintree is still working out some last-minute issues with its vendor, advocates of the new system say it is cheaper, cleaner, and, with its rows of color-coordinated plastic carts, more aesthetically pleasing.

“It’s a huge success. People love the covered containers,’’ said Lorraine Mavrogeorge, recycling and trash compliance officer for Abington.

“Awesome. Amazing,” was how driver Tony DiCesare described it.

DiCesare, who picks up trash in Abington for Waste Solutions Inc., said he no longer has to worry about the safety of a worker on the back of the vehicle, exposed to traffic and other hazards.

Compliance officer Lorraine Mavrogeorge is enthusiastic about the automated trash system in Abington.

Debee Tlumacki for The Boston Globe

Compliance officer Lorraine Mavrogeorge is enthusiastic about the automated trash system in Abington.

Now DiCesare pulls up to the curb, uses the mechanical arm to reach out and clutch the carts, also known as Toters, and empties their contents into the bin in the front of the truck. He then replaces the bins to their curbside spots, about 2 feet apart, without having to leave his seat.

Recyclables are picked up in a separate truck that dumps the contents into a side bin.

In addition to the efficiency, DiCesare remarked, “It looks neater.”

The Abington carts are green, with green lids for trash, yellow lids for recyclables. Recycling is mandatory, and those who continually fail to put out their recycling carts are reported because the town pays for disposal of trash while it receives some money back for recyclable materials.

According to the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, at least 16 communities statewide use a two-cart system, including Avon, Dedham, Easton, Mansfield, Norwood, and Westwood.

Perhaps the biggest benefit of the automated system is that it requires fewer workers, thus reducing costs.

Brooke Nash, branch chief for recycling for the Department of Environmental Protection, added that automation reduces workers’ compensation costs because there are fewer back problems and other injuries on the job.

In Abington, four men were formerly assigned to a truck, but now two are, said Michael J. Panciocco, operations manager for Marshfield-based Waste Solutions.

He said the reduction of labor, along with the new trucks, saves the town $150,000 in collection costs per year. The town may not immediately see the savings, however, because of start-up costs, such as buying the carts.

Panciocco said snowbanks, parked cars, and telephones poles can be challenging for drivers, but overall, his company and Abington officials are pleased with the new system.

The automated system is also saving money for Mansfield, said Lee Azinheira, head of the town’s Department of Public Works.

Mansfield has been using the automated system for trash since 2007 and for recycling since 2009. The trash-related budget has increased about 11.6 percent over nine years, which Azinheira said is low considering the average increase used to be as much as 3.5 percent a year.

Azinheira said that one benefit of the system is that it is more difficult for people from other communities to bring their trash into town and leave it on a sidewalk. Only what is in the barrel is collected, so there is more control, he said.

He also credited the regional disposal contract that the town joined, and said he is trying to persuade Dartmouth, where he lives, to switch to the automated system.

Stephan Wronski, who lives with his wife and three children on Old Farm Road in Abington, said he likes the new system.

“I think it’s been wonderful. There’s been less trash on the street blowing around,” he said.

Furthermore, he said, the smell of trash is less noticeable, a welcome change on some of the recent 90-plus degree days.

According to Mavrogeorge, the new system also makes it more difficult for animals to get into the trash, though various remedies (including cheap perfume) are being tried out to keep stubborn squirrels from biting golf-ball size holes in some of the carts.

According to Nash of the Department of Environmental Protection, the state has been encouraging automation by offering grants that pay nearly 25 percent of the expense of the wheeled carts, which can cost communities about $50 each.

“We’ve come a long way in recycling,” she said, adding that the blue bins that used to be the standard now look “dollhouse size.”

Surveys show that people might recycle only as much as their bin holds, said Nash, but “if you give them that big bin, you remove that barrier.”

She said officials hope people will throw away only what fits in the cart, since most communities no longer pick up unlimited bags and barrels.

Next to move to automation is Weymouth, where EZ Disposal Service will implement the two-cart system on Sept. 16, said Rosemary Nolan, the town’s solid-waste coordinator.

Nolan said the town plans to distribute 32,000 carts, along with more information to residents, this month and next. The carts will have maroon and gold lids, in keeping with Weymouth High School and town colors, she said.

While some residents have told Nolan they are concerned about the changes, she said the barrels will have phone numbers that residents can call for questions.

In Braintree, a trash-collection contract with Sunrise Scavenger Inc. took effect on July 1. But before the automated system kicks in, some town councilors still have questions about the system. They decided last Monday to delay a decision on spending $905,000 to buy the barrels for automated collection, and plan to revisit the issue on Tuesday.

If all goes well, these towns will eventually be as pleased as Abington has been with its system. The barrels are assigned to addresses, and after a year, most of the barrels are still where they were assigned, said Mavrogeorge and DiCesare.

A few are missing, however, and Mavrogeorge also noted the loss of one barrel in a fire.

“Number 13465,’’ Mavrogeorge said, “she was a good bin.”

Jean Lang can be reached at jeanmcmillanlang@gmail.com
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