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Committee ponders next step for city’s trash disposal

Date: 12/23/2015

CHICOPEE - The landfill used by Chicopee will be closing in 2017 or 2018, and the city must make its plans for the future of trash disposal.

The task is to find a way to mitigate a $1.7 million loss in garbage disposal and the Landfill Closure Alternatives Advisory Committee designated to finding a solution is grappling with various strategies.

The committee met in Dec. 17 and is considering a ‘pay as you throw plan,’ the impact of increased recycling in the city, the purchase of implementation of a garbage pick-up system similar to that of Springfield’s for automated curb-side pick-up.

Any finalized plan would have to be approved by the City Council.

No committee member spoke about implementing a trash fee such as the one in Springfield.

The trouble, according to committee members, there is no quick fix financially for the problem.

The committee's chair, former Department of Public Works Superintendent Stan Kulig, noted various changes will yield savings in the future, but goal of reaching $1.7 million immediately will be difficult.

The $1.7 million is from the $1 million the city receives as the host fee for the landfill off of Burnett Road, and the $734,800 it will cost to dispose of the city's trash.

The committee is using as a resource for discussion a draft report written by the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission. The report called Chicopee’s situation “an opportunity.”

It noted the city could implement “a phased transition to a resource management approach to waste processing (zero waste) gradually implementing ‘trash metering’ or ‘pay as you throw’ (PAYT); supplemented by a transition to automated collection and participation in a regional disposal contract; and supported by on-going interactions with Waste Management [owners of the landfill] with assistance from the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection as necessary, to manage the landfill closure smoothly over time.”

The report asserts these measures would “allow the city to safely weather the storm of combined loss of income stream with increased service cost.”

“Zero Waste” measures include heightened recycling.

Kulig shared with committee members the results of what he called “ a very random and not scientific” exercise. He showed photos taken of garbage bags he had selected on the tree belt ready for pick-up. Kulig opened the bags and separated out the material that could have been recycled. The result was a considerable reduction in the amount of trash that was destined for the landfill.

City Councilor William Zaskey said city residents need more education about recycling. Kulig noted, for example, while a food stained pizza box could not be recycled, if the top half of the container had no stain, it could be turned off and recycled.

“There is still a lot of recyclable material that be being thrown out as trash,” Kulig said.

The bulk disposal of items such as appliances is something that must also be considered. The committee must consider if a new site operated by the landfill owners could continue the program or should the city operate it. Other choices include directing Chicopee residents to programs in other communities or contact with a private hauler.

City Councilor Frank Laflamme said the committee needs all of the financial costs attached to each scenario, which Kulig said he would supply.

When discussing PAYT systems, Kulig said that studies have shown that people will spend more time thinking and sorting what they are throwing away. The reason is they would have to pay for the trash bags – the more items that are recycled the fewer bags that need to be purchased.

Using the automated pick-up trucks would save $500,000 in payroll and reduce the number of trucks the city has to maintain, Kulig said. He added the city could see a savings of $800,000.

City Councilor James Tillotson charged, “The cost is going to be tremendous” for such a plan.

Kulig replied, “This is a long range process. The point is to start now.”

He assured the committee members the plan would still allow the alternative pickup of trash and recycling and there would be enough trucks and personnel to continue picking up yard waste.

“We’re not reinventing the wheel here. It’s done all over the country, done all over the state,” Kulig said.

Laflamme noted the high sewer rates currently being paid by city residents due to the mandated work on combined sewer overflows and expressed concern about the cost of a new trash plan. Tillotson also added his doubts about how such a plan could be supported financially.

Kulig said, “The waste reality is changing in Chicopee. We have to change the way we think about trash.”