Fall River Goes to ‘Pay-as-You-Throw’ Collection

By JOYCE ROWLEY/ecoRI News contributor

FALL RIVER, Mass. — When the city got notice in February that the landfill was closing, Betsy Westell, the city’s recycling coordinator, called the news “catastrophic.” Two months later, in May, Westell found out she was now going to run a “pay-as-you-throw” (PAYT) program.

“Most PAYT programs take six to ten months to start up,” she said. “We had six to ten weeks.”

The Fall River PAYT is slated to begin Aug. 4.

With the help of WasteZero consultants, Fall River will join 141 other Massachusetts PAYT municipalities in an effort to curb waste and increase recycling, both of which help prolong the life of landfills, reduce the need to burn waste, and save natural resources by removing more plastic, glass, metal and paper from the waste stream.

When it costs to throw out recyclable material, people are incentivized to recycle. But how much will the city actually save?

Director of community maintenance Ken Pacheco said the total waste collection program costs $5.5 million a year. That cost includes curbside pickup of trash, yard waste and bulky goods, and the drop-off collection of paint and household hazardous waste. Disposal costs alone run about $1.8 million annually for some 30,700 tons. The city received $1.7 million annually as a host landfill community to offset that cost, but that funding stops when the facility closes.

Based on figures from other similar-sized cities such as Brockton and Worcester, Fall River expects to increase its recycling rate from 20 percent to 40 percent, which translates into about $800,000 annually in reduced trash disposal costs and increased revenues from recyclable items. Revenues from the sale of the program’s official purple trash bags is expected to bring in another $2.7 million a year, for a total savings of about $3.5 million annually.

It’s in the bag
To get their trashed picked up, residents will need to buy purple trash bags at any of 30 retail locations throughout the city. The bags come in three sizes and prices to meet the needs of diverse households.

For example, single seniors may only need the mini 8-gallon bags, which they can buy in packages of eight for $6. It’s not much different than buying garbage bags now, except that the money goes to the city to offset the cost of trash pickup.

Small 15-gallon purple bags, the same size as kitchen trash bags, are offered in packages of eight for $10. And for larger families or for larger objects, large 30-gallon purple bags are sold in packages of five for $10.

Residents place filled purple trash bags into their roll-out carts and put it out curbside on their usual day for pickup.

Westell said the city expects a small to mid-sized family to spend about $15-$20 a month in trash disposal. Instead of a blanket increase in their tax bill regardless of how much they throw away, residents have an opportunity to keep their trash costs down.

Recycling, as always, is free.

Where will it go?
Since 1938, Fall River waste went to the landfill at 1080 Airport Road originally owned by Browning Ferris Inc (BFI). The landfill took in, on average, 273,415 tons annually, according to the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), but without further room to expand, the landfill will close by the end of this year, with capping to occur in 2015.

Pacheco said the city’s 28-year contract with BFI, now known as Allied Waste and locally as Republic Services, ends with the closing of the landfill. The city was notified that the landfill is no longer taking in waste after Oct. 1.

Republic Services has a construction permit to build a 20,900-square-foot transfer station on 1.9 acres at the landfill. The new facility is expected to handle 1,000 tons of municipal solid waste daily, when it becomes operational in 2015.

The city has the option of switching to a contract with another hauler at another transfer station, such as the ABC Disposal’s sites in New Bedford or Rochester, or use Covanta’s incinerator in Rochester.

“Right now, the new transfer station is our only choice,” Pacheco said. The other options require sending collection trucks outside the city and are impractical, he said.

Fall River currently trucks out 155 tons daily, according to Pacheco. With PAYT, the city is hoping to cut that amount nearly in half and gain income from additional recyclable materials.

Republic Services owns several landfills, but where the city’s trash will be ultimately disposed of is uncertain, Pacheco said.