AMESBURY — Hoping to better explain its new trash and recycling programs, representatives from the Department of Public Works appeared before the City Council last night to set the record straight.
Rob Desmarais and Laurie Pierce, who are the DPW director and administrative assistant respectively, gave a presentation to the council in order to explain what the DPW’s new programs are, why they were implemented and what changes in the state regulatory environment made them necessary.
“Our goals are to lower our costs at every opportunity,” Desmarais said during his introductory. “We want to promote good resource management for the city, negotiate the best services at the best rates possible … and to make Amesbury a cleaner and greener community.”
Desmarais explained that the main goal is to increase recycling and reduce trash disposal costs for the city. As part of Amesbury’s waste disposal contract with G. Mello Disposal Corp., the city pays a fee for all trash that is disposed of, but receives a cash rebate for everything that is recycled. That means the more residents recycle, the more money the city saves.
Pierce went on to explain where Amesbury stands right now.
“Amesbury’s recycling rate is about 25 percent,” Pierce said. “Over the past six years, Amesbury’s trash tonnage has dropped, and recycling has risen, but compare Amesbury to Newburyport, and Newburyport’s recycling rate is 10 percent more than Amesbury.”
Pierce went on to explain that five other local communities have recycling rates of 30 percent or more, and that there is room for improvement for Amesbury.
She also went over a chart explaining what makes up the contents of the average trash truck in Amesbury, and said 68 percent of it shouldn’t be there. Paper, plastic and glass comprise 42 percent of the typical trash load, despite the fact that all are collected as recyclables, and that banned materials like metals, electronics and hazardous household wastes make up another 26 percent of the average load, she said.
“That leaves organics and other that makes up 32 percent,” Pierce said. “That’s what should be in our waste collection truck.”
The presence of banned materials in people’s trash presents a particular problem for the city given the end of DARP, or the state’s Department-Approved Recycling Plan, this past spring. In March, the Department of Environmental Protection announced that it would be ending DARP, which had previously exempted qualified communities from comprehensive waste inspections.
In other words, Amesbury could be fined if a future inspection turns up too much recyclable or banned material in the trash.
There were some positive trends to point to, though. Pierce said that Amesbury’s recycling savings doubled from 2007 to 2012, and in the Fiscal Year 2012, Amesbury saved almost $160,000.
Ultimately, the key for Amesbury residents is to comply with the new programs and to recycle as much as possible, she said.
The DPW’s presentation came in response to some confusion among the public regarding those new programs, specifically one that had some residents crying “Big Brother.”
Earlier this fall, the DPW began an educational initiative intended to reach out to people who were throwing away recyclables and banned materials. Residents initially interpreted the effort as the DPW acting as the trash police, rummaging through people’s trash to see if they were in violation.
Desmarais clarified that this would only happen if G. Mello had already flagged the residence and if the resident was home to go through it with them. The DPW also emphasized that violators would not be fined, and that the program’s intention was to bring people into compliance.
Other new programs intended to bring Amesbury more in line with its new disposal contract and state regulations include a requirement that residents purchase a “Bulk Sticker” before disposing of bulk items like furniture, along with new collection days for the downtown business district.