WATERVILLE — City councilors on Tuesday voted 5-0 to approve extending a contract with WasteZero to continue supplying purple trash bags to retailers for purchase by residents as part of the city’s pay-as-you-throw system of trash collection.

Councilor Nathaniel White, D-Ward 2, was absent from the meeting; Councilor Lauren Lessing, D-Ward 3, recently resigned to move to Iowa.

The contract extension for $49,865 with WasteZero, of Raleigh, North Carolina, would be for two years, to June 30, 2020. The city’s contract expired June 30 this year. The contract is based on an expected volume of 160,000 bags — 50,000 small and 110,000 large bags — per year. Residents pay $10 for eight small bags and $10 for five large bags and the city gets part of the proceeds.

The unanimous vote to approve the contract extension followed discussion by residents, councilors and city officials about how the current trash collection system is working, with the city using a dual packer truck to collect both recycling and trash at the curb and what the city’s plans are for trash and recycling in the future.

Mayor Nick Isgro asked if the city had looked into a sticker system rather than a bag system, where residents would buy their own bags and place stickers on them signifying they had paid a fee for city collection.

City Manager Michael Roy said he and Public Works Director Mark Turner looked into that idea last year and discovered there would be more problems with a sticker system than the bag system. No other place in Maine manufactures bags such as those the city would use, he said.

Turner said, for instance, that in municipalities where a sticker system is used, people have claimed they placed a sticker on a bag but the sticker disappeared.

“If you have a purple bag, there’s no question,” Turner said, adding that stickers are difficult to see sometimes and it takes longer to certify that bags have stickers.

City Councilor John O’Donnell, D-Ward 5, said the money the city spends for WasteZero bags is about $50,000 and asked Turner what the city gets in return, to which Turner replied about $300,000. Isgro said the city is making $300,000, with a net of $250,000, and asked what the cost of recycling is compared to the cost of picking up trash.

Turner said the city paid more when it contracted for recycling pickup, but it costs less because the city is now collecting it. Roy concurred.

Councilor Sydney Mayhew, R-Ward 4, said he is seeing more private haulers in the city collecting people’s trash — those who do not take part in pay-as-you-throw — and asked if the trash tonnage collected has decreased.

“It’s gone from 4,600 tons when we first started down to just under 2,000 tons a couple years ago to about 1,840,” Turner replied. Roy said recycling tonnage has gone up from the first year to this year.

Mayhew said he thinks the city needs to have a larger discussion in public forums about solid waste in the future.

“We certainly are looking to make tough decisions down the road,” he said.

Resident Bob Vear asked if the city is making any money on the recycling, to which Roy said it is not.

“The recycling market is so slow,” Roy said.

The city’s recycling is taken to Ecomaine in South Portland and the city pays for the transportation, but not for recycling to be dropped off there.

Councilor Jackie Dupont, D-Ward 7, had asked how long the current Ecomaine contract is for; Roy said Waterville is in its second year of a five-year contract. Dupont noted the city is protected for another three years from possibly having to pay to drop off recyclables. Isgro had said earlier that he had read a story about Ecomaine’s possibly charging municipalities in the future to accept recyclables.

Meanwhile, Turner said for the most part the dual packer system of collection is working well, though there have been minor glitches and ups and downs since it started in April.

“Overall, volume-wise, the truck works well and it does what was intended to do,” he said.

Resident Chris Smith said the purple bags are “extremely cheap” and tend to have holes in them and he has sent some back only to have more sent back to him that are equally defective. He said some other places, such as in Virginia, use a trash can system where residents buy their own bags and place their trash in a can that is part of the system.

Turner said, however, that typically can programs involve trucks that have automated arms that pick up the cans and dump the bags from them in the truck. He said that would not work well in Maine weather with snow.

“Not very practical for around here, I don’t think,” he said.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17

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