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Plymouth considers pay-as-you-throw trash program

PLYMOUTH — Whether it’s with curbside service, transfer station drop-off, or a combination of the two, Plymouth will probably be joining 136 other communities statewide that get rid of their trash by asking property owners to pay per bag.

Selectmen are set to decide Tuesday which of the three options they will put to Town Meeting for funding this spring. All require the purchase of special bags for trash disposal — a method known as “pay-as-you-throw.” The new program, if approved, is expected to begin in July.

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Plymouth public works director Jonathan Beder, who developed the options selectmen will consider, called the proposed change “a huge decision” for the town.

“We’re trying to solve the town’s trash problems for the next 10 years,” he said. Communities that use the pay-as-you-throw system generally see their yearly trash tonnage dramatically drop and their recycling rates soar — something local officials hope will happen in Plymouth, where residents recycle very little.

“Plymouth is one of the highest in the state for trash, averaging 2,250 pounds per household per year,” Beder said. “And the recycling rate is only about 21 percent.”

The town currently runs three transfer stations, where residents drop off trash and recyclables for an annual fee of $186. Since the cost isn’t connected to the amount of trash they generate, residents have no financial incentive to sort out recyclables.

The town, meanwhile, has to pay to get rid of all that trash. The SEMASS shred-and-burn facility in Rochester charges Plymouth $23 per ton, but that contract expires at the end of 2014. “You’ll see that rate triple,” Beder said. “We’ve kicked the can down the road for 10 years, but we have to do something now if we’re going to control costs.”

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Brooke Nash, recycling branch chief for the state Department of Environmental Protection, said the pay-as-you-throw program is “the single most effective way to bring about behavior change.”

“It decreases trash and increases recycling,” Nash said. “It’s an equitable program when people are paying for the amount of service they’re using.”

In Marshfield, where residents have used a pay-as-you-throw program since 2007, Debbie Sullivan, the town’s solid waste recycling and enforcement officer, said recycling has risen from 13 percent to “the high 30s.”

Duxbury, another pay-as-you-throw town, has a recycling rate of over 50 percent.  

Other area communities with pay-as-you-throw programs include Milton, Holbrook, Halifax, Brockton, East Bridgewater, Foxborough, Freetown, Cohasset, Scituate, Raynham, Lake­ville, and Bridgewater. Some offer curbside pickup, while others have transfer station drop-off.

Beder’s first option calls for curbside pickup of both trash and recyclables. Participants would pay a flat annual fee and buy town-approved bags for their trash. Recycling would be single-stream, placed curbside in one barrel.

Under the second option, the Manomet transfer station would remain open. Residents could sign up for curbside service of trash and recyclables or opt to buy a transfer station sticker and take trash and recyclables there. Both plans would include a flat rate and require trash bag purchase.

Option three would have no curbside component, but would keep all three transfer stations open, with residents paying a yearly fee and buying trash bags.

Beder said that final option would be the most expensive, since the land lease for the South Street transfer station will expire January 2015. Because the operation sits on a landfill that needs capping, Beder said, a new station would probably be built nearby, costing the town about $1 million. 

Prices attached to all the options will be presented Tuesday. Participation in the town’s program will remain optional, since property owners can also choose to hire private trash haulers.

Beder is pushing for option two, which allows residents the choice of curbside pickup or transfer station drop-off. “It offers the highest level of service,” he said.

The option would please Town Meeting representative Charles Vandini, who said he enjoys going to the transfer station. “It’s a meeting place,” he said. “I’m the old guy in town. I used to go to the dump, and now I go to the transfer station.”

During recent forums, residents echoed Vandini’s opinion. “We heard a lot that people wanted to keep at least one transfer station open,” Beder said. “We appreciate they’ve been born and raised with transfer stations.”

Whichever option is chosen, some worry they’ll be paying more for trash. Council on Aging director Connie DiLego said some seniors have expressed that concern.

“They have concerns over financial aspects and concerns about how far they would have to take their trash,” DiLego said, since some driveways in rural Plymouth are very long. “But I’ve also heard from people who think it’s a good idea.”

Tuesday’s selectmen’s meeting will open at 7 p.m. at Town Hall.  

Christine Legere can be reached at christinelegere@yahoo.com.

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