WEST NEWBURY — A new level of automation may soon be coming to town.
Facing escalating costs for the removal of trash and recyclables, the Board of Health is talking with G. Mello Disposal Corp. about a program that uses automated trucks for picking up the town's disposable waste.
At a recent meeting with selectmen, Blake Seale of the Health Board explained how it would work. Each home would receive two 64-gallon barrels at no cost — most likely one blue container for trash and a green one for recyclables.
On the proper day of the week, homeowners would bring their barrels to the street, making sure the lid is facing outward. Special trucks would pull up to each barrel and automatically pick them up, dump the contents into the truck.
Following a short acclimation period to get everyone used to the process, barrels that were not properly placed would not be emptied that week.
Because the process doesn't rely on workers picking up and emptying barrels, adopting the automated service would save the town about $21,000 a year compared to conventional methods, Seale said.
Last year, unanticipated increases in the cost to remove recycling materials led to what Seale described as “a relatively large hit” for the town that required an additional $50,000 appropriation at the Special Town Meeting in the fall. For the first time last year, the town had to pay to have its recycling removed.
“This year is not going to be any different,” Seale said, noting that the cost to remove recycling now changes on a month-to-month basis.
“We can’t get a fixed price on recycling," he said.
The problem of disposing recyclable materials has affected communities across the country after China, probably the biggest recipient of U.S recyclables, stopped accepting many shipments because they were contaminated with items that could not be recycled.
The price increases are being felt across the country in part due to more contamination in both curbside — or single stream — recyclables and items brought to recycling centers. Examples of items put out that should not be included are plastic bags, coat hangers, plastic furniture and tarps.
Selectman Rick Parker said he worried about how elderly people, people with disabilities or those who have steep driveways would haul large barrels to the curb.
Seale said it is possible to offer 35-gallon barrels with large wheels in those cases. The town’s current trash contract with Mello allows for two 35-gallon barrels per household per week for trash, with blue recycling bins used for those materials.
Still, resident Lisa Mingo, whose house sits at the top of a long, gravel driveway, was not convinced.
“It’s not going to be very doable,” she said.
Seale noted that the Health Board plans to hold public forums early in 2020 before any permanent change is made.
“Really, the only thing we can do is to make less trash,” said selectmen Chairman David Archibald.
Parker wondered how best to educate people about the impact of bad recycling.
Health Agent Paul Sevigny said residents interested in learning more about what should and should not be recycled can visit the “Practice Clean Recycling” link on the Health Department webpage at www.wnewbury.org.
“I don’t ever see recyclables costing less to get rid of than regular trash again,” said Jason Mello of Mello Disposal Corp. “Automation is the way to go.”
Seale agreed, noting that in many industries, jobs are being eliminated and the move is toward more automated services.
“This is the way of the future,” he said.