MERRIMAC — Selectmen were notified last month that they had been awarded a MassDEP grant of $8,080 for a Bag-Based-Pay-As-You-Throw (PAYT) waste services upgrade and up to $10,000 to employ a waste reduction enforcement coordinator.
The town is one of only four towns statewide to receive this competitive PAYT bag transition grant approval. But the PAYT grant is now in jeopardy because the Board of Health has not included key language in their Solid Waste and Recycling Regulations that were just updated in October.
The transition from PAYT sticker program to a PAYT bag upgrade grant application process has been researched and shepherded by Jennifer Penney, selectmen’s administrator. It has been endorsed by selectmen in the hopes of boosting recycling rates and reducing the tax costs created by high tipping fees for waste disposal. The grant would defray the costs of switching from a colored sticker program to a colored bag program for designating trash.
The current program uses small stickers to mark trash from recycling in the trash barrel. Selectmen have consistently observed that the stickers are hard to identify inside the barrels and many mistakes are made that incorrectly send recycling to waste disposal instead of recycling. An easier method to visually identify trash from recycling might enhance recycling rates and reduce tipping fees at the waste disposal facility. The colored bags have received endorsement from other cities and towns as an effective identification tool.
Selectmen stress that a switch to bags would enhance the efficiency of pickup.
“More financial responsibility will be borne by purchase of the bags and less by tax dollars,” selectmen chairman Rick Pinciaro said. The bags will be filled only with trash and hauled away as such, thus less confusion of trash from recycling.
In order to receive the PAYT grant for which Merrimac has been approved, the town’s Solid Waste and Recycling Regulations must include language calling for “bundled or integrated pricing for trash and recycling.” Until now private trash haulers did not need to include recycling services in their pricing.
But the MassDEP has written guidelines to enhance recycling and the requirement is that each town must require all haulers to offer bundled pricing of both recycling and waste disposal services in order to receive grant money for transitional programs. The reason for this is to level the playing field, according to Sharon Kishida, the MassDEP Northeast Region II recycling coordinator.
At this time only the municipal haulers are required to offer both recycling and trash removal in one bundled price to the town. Private haulers can offer only waste disposal to individual households and many do just this or add extra costs for recycling. This creates a disincentive for households to recycle and also prompts households to use the municipal service just for recycling. Up to 300 Merrimac households have opted out of the municipal service.
“With a level collection field, current residential customers receiving municipal collection service would not have an incentive to opt out of the town’s PAYT curbside collection (where residents pay for each bag/barrel of trash),” Kishida said in an email.
According to the new regulations (Section 2.2) “waste and recycling services shall be offered to customers as part of an integrated waste management service.” The Mass DEP would like the language to also include “in one bundled price” for these services to make the haulers include the services in their pricing regime.
Selectmen have been prompting the Board of Health to alter the waste collection language to fit state guidelines for a number of months. At the essence of the conflict is a concern from the BOH about regulating small trash haulers who now service many town residents. Eileen Hurly, health board chairman, speaking on behalf of the entire board, said that they did not want to unfairly penalize small trash haulers by including this language.
“We didn’t want to hold them to something like bundled pricing. The little guy can get in there and make money on the recycling. The small haulers will have less trash but more recyclables to make money,” Hurley said.
“The way that we wrote the regulations makes sense to us. We want the townspeople to be able to understand the regulations,” Hurley said.
Kishida stressed that the state is looking to support waste reduction and increased diversion.
“The Town of Merrimac BoH has passed a good private hauler regulation, but unfortunately, it does not meet the grant eligibility requirement,” she concluded.
A January workshop sponsored by MassDEP could help the town craft the exact wording for the regulations. The town has until March to still receive the grant if the regulations comply.
“All regulations can be changed at any time,” Hurley said.