Brewster bandies about a pay-as-you-throw refuse system

Sandwich already onboard, Mashpee and Wellfleet may follow

Brewster residents had their first look at the town's proposed pay-as-you-throw (PAYT) solid waste disposal system during a community forum at town hall Monday night, and while the idea might be a no-brainer from an environmental perspective, many questions remain.

A standing-room only crowd of roughly 100 people turned out to learn details of the plan, which was created by the Brewster Recycling Commission at the request of the board of selectmen.

Like other towns on the Cape, Brewster's solid waste is transported to the trash-burning facility Covanta SEMASS in Rochester. It costs the town $35 per ton, and Brewster now is sending 2,700 tons to SEMASS each year. Under a renegotiated, 20-year contract, the per ton fee in 2014 will rise to $70, doubling the town's current annual cost of $94,500. Starting in 2015, the per ton rate increases by 2.5% a year for the duration of the term.

Brewster is proposing a reduction in the transfer station sticker fee to $30 a year, down from the current $110, and residents would buy special, town-sanctioned plastic bags to fill with solid wastes.

Bags holding 33 gallons of trash would cost $2 apiece and smaller ones holding 15 gallons would cost $1. Households that contain their trash to one large bag per week would pay a total annual cost of $134 for the sticker and the bags. Use two large bags a week and the yearly cost spikes to $238.

The idea, said Meg Morris, chairman of the recycling commission, is that a PAYT system incentivizes recycling. Those who enthusiastically recycle would pay less for trash disposal than those who don't, she said.

An hour-long question-and-answer period followed the commission's presentation. Most comments from the audience appeared to support a PAYT system, but there were concerns about the potential for illegal trash dumping and other issues.

Resident Elbert Ulshoeffer suggested that the town consider adding the entire cost of trash disposal to the tax rate.

“Many people don't have kids in the school but we all pay for the school budget,” he noted. “At least that way I can deduct it on my federal and state tax returns.”

William Moran stood up and said he didn't want to be the “skunk at the party,” but felt as though he was “listening to an infomercial.”

“PAYT needs more study, and there's time for that. Let's take the time to learn more about this,” said Moran, who later circulated a petition to have the question placed on spring town meeting warrant.

Other speakers questioned trash storage in the household.

“I don't think having an open garbage can in the house for a week is going to work in the summer,” commented one resident.

Brewster isn't alone in its quest to reduce trash costs.

Sandwich began using a PAYT system in July 2011 and has seen good results.

The town charges an annual sticker fee of $55, down from the previous $110, and residents buy approved trash bags in a variety of sizes. The largest, 30 gallon, costs $1.20.

According to the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, the average household in Sandwich is spending less than $70 per year on bags, making the total cost of trash disposal around $125 a year.

In the first year of operating a PAYT system, DEP records show Sandwich residents recycled 347 tons of trash, an increase of 65%. At the same time, solid waste disposal fell by 41%, to 1,605 tons.

The Brewster Recycling Commission invited Sandwich resident Paul Schrader to address Monday's forum. He spoke glowingly of PAYT, and said that none of the concerns Sandwich residents had, including a rise in illegal dumping, had materialized.

Other towns on the Cape are considering switching to a PAYT program.

Mashpee Department of Public Works director Catherine Laurent said her community is mulling the option.

“The town applied for and received a grant from DEP for start-up funds for the program. The board of selectmen will be discussing whether to accept the grant and implement the program in the next few months,” said Laurent.

There's been talk of a PAYT system in Wellfleet, too, but the town isn't as far along as Mashpee or Brewster. There appears to be some opposition to the program in the Outer Cape town.

“Wellfleet is defiantly considering pay as you throw,” said Mark Vincent, director of public works. “The town's contract with SEMASS expires in 2016. There are some operational concerns that need to be addressed in the meantime,” he added.

All of the towns on Martha's Vineyard use a form of PAYT, either by curbside pick-up or transfer station drop-off.

Nate Pettengill, a member of Brewster's finance committee, told the community forum that he supports the PAYT proposal but noted that disposal costs for his summer rental property in town would rise.

“I can't get my renters to separate [recyclables]. It will probably cost me $200 or $300 more a year. Maybe I'll raise the rental rate by $6 or $7 dollars a week,” he quipped.

But the summer rental issue is a real one for those who own the hundreds of investment homes in town. Another resident at the forum asked about how the town would get rental property owners onboard with the system. Her question went unanswered by town officials sitting at the front of the meeting room. They included board of selectmen chairman Dan Rabold, town administrator Charlie Sumner and department of public works director Bob Bersin.

Rabold said the town has targeted July 2013 as the start date for the PAYT system. Selectman John Dickson, who was speaking not in his official capacity but as a private citizen, said it's “quite possible” the question will go before town meeting.


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