Less (waste) is more (sav­ings) for NL

The Day - - OPINION -

I f, in a city’s an­nual bud­get planning, the mu­nic­i­pal­ity found a way to sub­tract three-quar­ters of a mill from the pro­posed tax rate with­out cut­ting out a valu­able pub­lic ser­vice or lay­ing off em­ploy­ees, wouldn’t that be re­fresh­ingly wel­come?

If the same pro­posal would more eq­ui­tably spread the cost of a pub­lic ser­vice to all users in­stead of just prop­erty tax­pay­ers, shouldn’t that be sat­is­fy­ing to those who have been car­ry­ing the load?

If that same pro­posal would re­spon­si­bly and sub­stan­tially lower the bur­den on other pub­lic re­sources, couldn’t that make it even more ap­peal­ing? It would, it should and it could. A pro­posal to switch New Lon­don’s waste col­lec­tion to a Pay-As-You-Throw sys­tem will go be­fore the City Coun­cil Monday, and by the end of sum­mer it could be in use. While we give the city low marks for the way the plan was put into the bud­get be­fore the coun­cil voted to es­tab­lish it, the idea is ab­so­lutely worth try­ing.

The plan is for all trash be­ing col­lected by city crews at res­i­dences, busi­nesses, gov­ern­ment fa­cil­i­ties and in­sti­tu­tions to be in spe­cial yel­low bags. The bags will be sold for $1 (33-gal­lon) and 60 cents (“tall kitchen” size) at var­i­ous venues, in­clud­ing su­per­mar­kets and con­ve­nience stores. The state Depart­ment of En­ergy and En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion, which is es­sen­tially aghast at the amount of re­cy­clable New Lon­don trash that doesn’t find its way into re­cy­cling, is fos­ter­ing the idea. PAYT is also ex­pected to change the equa­tion from how much New Lon­don spends for trash tip­ping (a whop­ping $58 per ton, and ris­ing) to how much New Lon­don is paid for its re­cy­cled ma­te­rial ($5 per ton).

Ac­cord­ing to de­tails of the SMART Trash study done for New Lon­don and posted on the city’s web­site, the pro­gram could nearly halve the high vol­ume of res­i­den­tial trash col­lected by the city: from an average of 859 pounds per year per per­son down to 450 pounds, give or take. Bag fees ap­ply to all users of the city’s waste re­moval sys­tem and would cover most of the dis­posal costs, fore­stalling a .75-mill ad­di­tion to the com­ing year’s prop­erty taxes.

(To be fully trans­par­ent we note The Day com­pany, as with other busi­nesses that em­ploy pri­vate waste re­moval ser­vices, will not be par­tic­i­pat­ing in the new sys­tem.)

City res­i­dents are used to large wheelie bins that do dou­ble duty as trash stor­age for six days a week and ef­fec­tively thwart most an­i­mal raiders. Con­cern from res­i­dents about pos­si­ble ver­min at­trac­tion has been vo­cif­er­ous. The Day in­vited ques­tions from con­cerned and cu­ri­ous New Lon­don­ers and Pub­lic Works Di­rec­tor Brian Sear pro­vided an­swers in Thursday’s edi­tion.

Sear said bags can be put out for col­lec­tion ei­ther on the ground or in any con­tainer in which they will be ob­vi­ous to col­lec­tion crews (ex­cept the green wheeled bins). The green bins will be re­pur­posed as re­cy­cling con­tain­ers by the ad­di­tion of stick­ers the city will pro­vide. Sear an­swered the ver­min ques­tion by not­ing that other towns us­ing PAYT have not re­ported prob­lems with an­i­mals rip­ping open the bags. If that does hap­pen, he said, pub­lic works crews will clean up the mess.

We’re skep­ti­cal on that point and the city should be pre­pared to amend the plan if ver­min be­come a prob­lem.

Faced with es­ca­lat­ing waste dis­posal costs, town and state govern­ments through­out New Eng­land, in­clud­ing Ston­ing­ton, have al­ready adopted PAYT. More are con­sid­er­ing it. Montville, af­ter cit­i­zen push­back akin to that in New Lon­don, an­nounced this week that it would de­lay fur­ther ac­tion for more re­view. That’s a sen­si­ble ap­proach, but if res­i­dents have an open mind we ex­pect they will ul­ti­mately back the plan.

It would be a mis­take for New Lon­don, Montville and other towns to aban­don the idea be­cause of the fa­mil­iar hes­i­tancy to change. The only way to ef­fec­tively test a wide-scale pro­gram such as this is to put it into ef­fect for all. If, af­ter a year, the prob­lems are greater than the ben­e­fits, the mu­nic­i­pal­ity will have saved some money in at least one bud­get cy­cle and can move on to other so­lu­tions.

But we don’t think that will hap­pen. The pi­o­neer­ing has been done by towns in Mas­sachusetts, Ver­mont and other states and has been well re­ceived. New Lon­don fac­tored PAYT into its bud­get. Now it needs a vote of the City Coun­cil to put the plan into ef­fect or find a way to cover the costs of the old sys­tem.

Do the right thing, coun­cilors. Re­model New Lon­don’s waste dis­posal sys­tem into one that costs the city less, bur­dens the en­vi­ron­ment less, and re­lies less on the same old pay­ers. Less, as the say­ing goes, is more.

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