WATERVILLE — A recommendation to discontinue free curbside trash pickup in the city did not go over well with some residents Tuesday night.
Beverly Busque, of Water Street in the city’s South End, said many of her neighbors can not afford to buy food, let alone pay to put their trash at the curb.
“We live down on the plains,” Busque said. “The people down there are poor. We are poor. I own a home and I can’t hardly make my expenses now. This is an added expense that we don’t need. We can’t afford it.”
Busque was talking about the Solid Waste Recycling Committee’s recommendation that the city institute a pay-as-you-throw system starting Sept. 1. Residents would go to the store or another designated place, buy a special trash bag for $2, fill it with trash and put it at the curb. Meanwhile, the city would hire a contractor to pick up people’s recyclables, also to be placed at the curb, at no fee to residents.
The idea, the committee said, is that the more people recycle, the less they would have to place in the trash bag.
The committee for the last year has been exploring alternatives to the city’s current system of trash pickup; and on Tuesday, it issued its preliminary report to the City Council.
Committee member Erik Thomas, a councilor who represents Ward 4, opened the discussion by saying he knows trash is a contentious issue. He asked people to be civil in talking about it Tuesday.
But Busque was angry. She yelled at Thomas, asking what people who have trouble making ends meet are supposed to do, and that under the new system, they would have to spend extra time recycling.
Thomas said the whole point is to make recycling simple. If recycling is instituted, it would be single-stream, meaning that residents put items such as plastic, cardboard, paper, cans and glass into one container and it would be sent to a facility that separates it.
Busque’s husband, Andrew, implored the city to continue picking up trash curbside the way it does now.
“That’s simple enough,” he said.
Thomas appeared nonplussed with the way the Busques were reacting to the proposal.
“Could you be a little more civil?” he asked.
“I am being civil,” Beverly Busque replied. “I’m not angry — I’m passionate.”
The committee explored the cost of contracting out for trash pickup to save money and using the pay-as-you-throw option combined with recycling.
The city in February solicited proposals, asking bidders to provide costs for trash pickup, curbside recycling and pay-as-you-throw.
The city received three bids, from Pine Tree Waste Inc./Casella Wast Systems Inc., for $268,234; Sullivan’s Waste Disposal, for $327,600; and Waste Management, $356,400. Those costs would be for the first year. The city’s cost would be $238,615.
The committee decided the best option for the city now is to continue collecting its own trash, but on a pay-as-you-throw basis, and add curbside recycling.
The new system would save the city money over the long term, reduce solid-waste tonnage, increase recycling and make trash a more user-based system.
“Renters will now help to support the cost of trash disposal, which is now entirely on the shoulders of property and business owners,” the committee report says.
But former mayor and city councilor Dana Sennett, a landlord, said that it’s tough for some of his tenants to bring out their trash on trash collection day.
“Those people — I know they’re not going to be responsible going and securing these bags,” said Sennett, an advertising representative for the Morning Sentinel. “I just see in a very short time, trash piling up on other people’s lawns.”
Councilor Karen Rancourt-Thomas, D-Ward 7, said she lives in the city’s South End and she knows that pay-as-you-throw will be a concern for her neighbors. She said she thinks people will throw trash behind houses, down at the Kennebec River, in cemeteries and in ball fields.
“I don’t see this being implemented by September 2014,” she said.
But Thomas said committee members who attended the meetings over the last year decided unanimously that pay-as-you-throw and recycling was the best way to go.
“There’s actually 140 communities in Maine that do this already,” he said. “There’s thousands around the country that do it already.”
He also noted that the recommended system is not cast in stone — that the city has made no decisions. A public hearing will be held on the issue and councilors will make the final decision.
“I don’t want anyone to think that this is a foregone conclusion,” Thomas said.
Beverly Busque was not convinced.
“This is just another way to bring money into the city — for you guys, not for us,” she said.
Longtime South End resident Charlie Poulin agreed.
“I think you better get back to the drawing board,” he said.
Councilor Dana Bushee, D-Ward 6, said city officials need to start making decisions based on what’s best for the entire city. The recommended trash disposal option would save money in the long run and the city might be able to spend the savings on things it needs, such as another code enforcement officer or a police officer for the South End, she said.
“This is a really, really creative and positive way to do that,” she said.
Thomas said there may be housing subsidies that would help eligible people pay for their trash bags.
A discussion about illegal dumping going on now in the city prompted Poulin to name places in the South End where trash and a mattress have been dumped. That induced Beverly Busque to say there’ll be more trouble with a new trash system.
“If you’ve got dumping now, you ain’t seen nothing yet,” she said.