Falmouth may take fresh look at trash disposal

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FALMOUTH — Town Councilor Aaron Svedlow is convinced that most people in Falmouth dislike current waste disposal practices, which include paying per bag and small, open recycling containers.

His remarks came as Kevin Roche, CEO of ecomaine, pitched the idea at last week’s council meeting of moving to automated trash and recyclables pickup and regionalizing those services.

Roche was there to talk about recent issues with contaminated recycling loads and a sharp reduction in the overall market for recyclables. But he also took the time to encourage the town to seriously consider changing how it handles waste disposal overall.

“We need to improve collection efficiency … through automated collection (and) we need to stabilize future collection costs through regionalization,” said Roche, who heads the municipally owned waste-to-energy plant that serves various local communities, including Falmouth.

“We estimate that ecomaine communities might save 10 to 20 percent in total collection costs with regionalization … (as well as) reduce the greenhouse gas emissions (associated with garbage pickup) by 10 percent.”

That’s when Svedlow mentioned his impatience with the current system, including how recyclables and other trash are easily blown around, and how it’s a constant complaint he hears from residents.

“If the public is keen on doing something different, let’s see what can be done, especially regionally with other towns,” he said.

That notion received some interest from other councilors, which led Town Manager Nathan Poore to suggest an online survey to gather data about current attitudes toward waste disposal practices in Falmouth.

Right now trash and recyclables are picked up manually and placed in a collection truck by employees of Pine Tree Waste. Many homeowners also still drop off their own trash and recyclables at the transfer station.

But Roche told the Town Council that automation would not only reduce costs for both the town and the trash-hauling service. It could also assist with the ongoing labor shortage in the waste disposal industry, as well as provide better worker safety.

Using carts, especially providing larger carts for recycling than for trash, could also assist the town in raising its recycling rate to its stated goal of 50 percent annually. Falmouth’s current rate is 37 percent, according to Public Works Director Jay Reynolds.

Both Kimberly Darling, the town’s sustainability coordinator, and Reynolds agree that “We are (only) in the initial stages of collecting and analyzing data, and nothing will be changed or implemented anytime soon.”

Darling said the town would “do some initial outreach at the elections on Nov. 6 (and) this information will be accompanied by an online survey, which we haven’t finalized quite yet. We won’t know next steps until we have a substantial data set and a clearer directive from the council.”

Falmouth moved to pay-per-bag in 1993, according to Reynolds. Three years ago the town looked at the possibility of moving to carts and automated pickup, but “initial estimates showed that just purchasing the carts alone will be approximately $400,000,” Darling said.

Any change to how Falmouth deals with trash and recyclables “has to be not only in the interest of the town, but the haulers, too,” she said. “The results from this process will determine the value of regional pickup and disposal and what that could entail.”

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 710-2336 or kcollins@theforecaster.net. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KIrishCollins.

On a typical trash day in Falmouth, residents place their trash and recyclables curbside to be picked up manually. The town has a pay-per-bag system, which requires trash to only be placed in correctly marked bags.

Falmouth uses Pine Tree Waste to pick up residential trash and recycling and deliver it to the ecomaine waste-to-energy plant in Portland.

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