Public Reaction Mixed To Pay As You Throw Proposal

By: Ed Maroney

Topics: Recycling and Solid Waste

Rising cost for disposal may require changes at the transfer station. The specifics are still being debated.  CHRONICLE FILE PHOTO

ORLEANS If you missed last week's standing-room-only presentation on Pay As You Throw (PAYT) trash disposal and single-stream recycling—and you have the patience to sit through a few variance requests first—the conversation continues today (Sept. 19) after 2 p.m. at the board of health's meeting.

The board joined the selectmen Sept. 10 for a public information session on switching to PAYT, which involves buying specially marked bags for garbage disposal. Single-stream recycling would eliminate home separation of glass, paper, and other materials. Both efforts are intended to incentivize recycling.

The size of last week's crowd rivaled recent turnouts by advocates of walking dogs on town beaches, but DPW/Natural Resources Director Tom Daley said, “I don't have a dog in the fight per se” when it comes to how to handle recycling. “My job is to give you the best facts.”

Daley clicked through a slide presentation that he'd shared at previous selectmen and health board meetings, this time with some updated numbers. Rising costs of disposal, he said, will require the town to raise the transfer station fee from $75 to $135 or $140 in May. With conversion to PAYT and single-stream, however, the sticker fee could go up to $90. On top of that, ratepayers could pay 50 cents each for small garbage bags, $1 for medium-size, and $1.50 for large; these would be sold in local stores.

Towns that have adopted PAYT have seen significant reductions in the volume of solid waste disposal and some increases in recycling at transfer stations. Not only are the economics of conversion favorable, according to Daley, but getting more recyclables out of the waste stream is good for the planet, too. Citing federal Environmental Protection Agency data, he said that recycling rather than tossing 100 tons of office paper is equivalent to taking 49 cars off the road for a year or not using 529 barrels of oil.

“This whole conversation is not about trash and the cost of what we do,” Daley said. “It gets into the environment, and what we should want as a society: lots of recycling and a little bit of trash.”

Most of the people who spoke agreed with that, but they were divided on how to achieve such goals. There was an undercurrent of “let's make what we have better” before launching into the new world of PAYT and single-stream (Daley said he'd prefer to call it the Orleans SMART Program, for “Save Money And Reduce Trash.”)

Bob Wilkinson liked the proposal. “My wife and I are avid recyclers,” he said. “I love the idea of putting it all in one place. When the northwest wind is blowing in January, it's kind of a drag to be out there” at the transfer station waiting to put materials in separate containers.

Vicki Reis said lots of communities are going with PAYT but she criticized single-stream recycling as “the most costly way to process waste,” requiring an off-site facility to separate materials. “Barnstable went to single-stream in 2016. By 2018, they were done with it. Mashpee had single-stream; in June 2019, they stopped. Everybody else is backing off.”

Anne Sigsbee said that “we, the town, should pay attention to education and do this a little more slowly rather than jump into something we don't fully understand. The scene is changing: not only are landfills filling up and the price going up, but the cost of recycling is rising... We don't want to deceive our citizens into thinking they'll be saving money.” She called for better education about recycling, and a pause “to give ourselves time to decide if we want to go to PAYT.”

Another speaker said he liked the concept of PAYT, but as for single-stream, “I can't see dumping a whole bunch of newspapers in with my bottles.” He suggested instituting PAYT first, and improving the recycling area at the dump. “You should have a bin for 'you never know' or 'what is it,'” he said, eliciting laughter.

One speaker said her family of two, which is “very, very conscientious about recycling,” would probably produce a medium-sized bag of trash weekly. “That's $52 a year,” she said. “With a $75 sticker, I'm above the $125 (current sticker cost).”

Another speaker, Sheila McGorman, said she was “a very adamant person about recycling—I drive everybody in my house nuts,” She said her household fills “five to six trash bags every week. I buy my bags at BJ's. I gotta go where they're cheap, 200 bags for 10 bucks. I'm almost being taxed out of the town at this point. Everybody else in my family has left. I'm hanging on by the noose around my neck. Please don't tighten it any more.”

Single-stream “takes the cost impact off people hanging by a noose,” the board of health's Luke Chapman said. Noting that the majority of residences are owned by people who don't live here and come from communities that don't separate recyclables, he said, “when they come here, they're not recycling at all.” Single-stream would encourage them to at least separate trash and recyclable material, thus reducing solid waste tonnage and disposal costs for all taxpayers.

In response to questions about costs, Daley said due to market changes, the town is no longer making money overall on recycling. With PAYT, he said, “trash will go down a lot,” reducing trucking and disposal costs. “Single-stream recycling would add $6 a ton. Is it worth it? That's your decision.”

Daley said Orleans has been “pretty lucky” with the cost of its sticker ($125). “I live in Harwich and I pay $160. Barnstable is $250, Dennis is $162, Yarmouth is in the same ballpark. We've done very well in keeping prices down in the town of Orleans.”

“I think the dump works quite well,” Jan Berger said. “It just needs to be tweaked. I enjoy going to the dump and separating things. Raise my sticker price by 25 percent. Don't charge me by the bag. Just keep the separate recycling and add another dumpster for another product. We're all conscientious. We like to do the best we can and not buy bags every time we want to throw away some stinky fish.”

The agenda for the joint session with the boards listed “Possible vote in support of implementing PAYT and single stream recycling programs and the development of necessary regulations,” but that didn't happen.

The board of health can set regulations that the selectmen can vote to enact. Alternatively, Selectman Chairman Mark Mathison said, “we have talked about bringing this forward to town meeting for a vote. We also talked about that causing a delay, probably for a couple of years. If town meeting voted to go with PAYT, it couldn't happen until the year after when we sell stickers. It's still subject to debate.

“We've had several discussions with nobody in the audience at board of selectmen meetings. Nobody would come out and sit through four hours of that. The board of health had meetings. No one was there. Now we have a roomful. It gives us an opportunity to hear questions and comments, to get more information about what concerns citizens and what directions we need to go in.”

Mathison said the board of health “will be having further discussions on this. We're not making a decision tonight... Probably the board of selectmen will wait until the board of health has had the opportunity to look at this further before we have future deliberations. When the time comes for us to discuss it further, we will do it in conjunction with the board of health. That will be something more prominently [noticed] to the public.”