By Till Kaeslin
BU News Service
This article was previously published in the Belmont Citizen-Herald.
Belmont resident and town meeting member Paul Roberts said he remembers a time when he was able to take just about anything to his curbside and have the town’s trash collectors haul it out of sight.
“Anything – bed frame, mattress. It was great, it was really old school,” Roberts said. “It was like you were back in the ’50s or something.”
But times have changed, and the town has been tightening its regulations on trash collection. As a scarlet red banner on the town website reminds residents, as of Oct. 1, trash carts that aren’t fully sealed will not be emptied by trash collectors. Waste management employees are now putting stickers on any carts not fully closed containing trash in unofficial bags, or which have excess items on top of them, and the town will not send back trash collectors to empty those carts with stickers on them, according to the website.
Residents whose trash is not picked up one week will have to wait until the following week to have their cart emptied and must use official overflow bags which can be purchased at Star Market, Hillside True Value, as well as at the Department of Public Works office for any excess trash, according to the website.
New system requires adjustment
The impending change comes just three months after the town made the big switch from manually operated trash pick-ups to fully automated collection. Along with introducing garbage trucks with mechanical arms, the town also provided each household with a 64-gallon wheeled cart designated for trash and a 96-gallon wheeled cart for single-stream recycling.
Jay Marcotte, director of Public Works, wrote in an email this new contract was developed over a period of more than two years, and it was the result of a collaborative effort between the Public Works department and a citizen-based solid waste working group.
Introducing the requirement to keep trash cart lids fully sealed for pick-up was always a part of the plan, Marcotte wrote.
He said it has been an adjustment for residents but believes about 80 percent of residents are satisfied with the new system. The other 20 percent are having a harder time going from unlimited to limited and he said the greatest number of complaints he has received have been about the size of the barrels. Either they are too big or too small, he said, and added some residents find the limit of one bulky item pickup per week challenging.
“Our hauler had informed us that they were seeing more and more overflow barrels,” Marcotte wrote. “The intent of the program was to reduce trash and promote recycling”
Concern over change’s impact
While Roberts said he supports the town for its focus on keeping local streets litter-free and continued attempts to make trash collection more convenient, he said he thinks the impending regulation on sealed trash carts is too hard on people on a practical level.
“Ok well now this is somebody who is really in a jam because they’re getting their full trash barrel back for another week as their home continues to generate trash, and what are they supposed to do with the new trash that they generate?” Roberts asked.
Marcotte suggested if residents generate too much trash to fit into the cart provided to them, they could purchase official overflow bags to store the excess waste. Should a resident be struggling with excess waste piling up in their home or on their driveway, Marcotte wrote the town will, “investigate each situation to determine a suitable outcome.”
In comparison the previous trash collection system, under which residents were allowed to put unlimited amounts of trash out on the pavement each week to be picked up, Marcotte wrote, the new automated system is both more efficient and more cost effective.
Town sets up helpline
Town meeting member Chris Kochem, however, said the town needs to be careful sacrificing the quality of the service residents are paying for in the name of greater efficiency.
“So the driver gets out of the truck to put the sticker on the barrel, but the driver won’t take the barrel,” Kochem said. “I understand they’re trying to create a new system, educate people, but you don’t want to make people angry or mad.”
As the residents of Belmont go through the pains that come naturally with any change, Kochem said her neighborhood is working together to help each other get their garbage collected, offering up extra space in their trash carts and looking out for their neighbors.
Marcotte said his recycling coordinator, Mary Beth Calnan, can help educate residents who are feeling challenged or having a difficult time adjusting to the new collection system. She can be reached at 617-993-2680.