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My Turn: Before updating trash collection process, a cost-benefit analysis is overdue for Greenfield

  • PATTAVINA



Wednesday, April 04, 2018

The recent Waste Forum organized by the Mayor was an excellent introduction to the waste management issues facing the town, which included both disposing of our biosolids (sludge) and updating our trash and recyclables collection.

In my position as Waste Management and Energy Coordinator in West Springfield, from which I am now retired, I was responsible for upgrading the town’s trash and recycling collection system and activating a closed, defunct trash transfer station. In the late 1990s, I was chair of Greenfield’s solid waste committee that recommended successfully that the town join the Springfield MRF and adopt a pay-as-you-throw program. It is my hope that I can continue to assist the town as it considers what the next generation of waste management will look like.

DPW Director Don Ouellette’s presentation on Feb. 22 on the proposed regional anaerobic digestor effectively portrayed the advantages of this technology to deal with our biosolids. It is a project, in my opinion, that deserves a thorough analysis and could possibly solve the thorny issue of biosolids management for participating Franklin County towns. However, Don’s presentation on solid waste and recycling fell short in a couple of important areas.

He stated that it was a myth that Greenfield is a good recycling city. He said that our 40 percent recycling rate puts us into a mediocre to poor category of recycling programs. I am not sure what Don was using for comparison, but in terms of the western Massachusetts regional recycling program, Greenfield’s per capita recycling rate is in the top 5 percent of municipal curbside collection programs. To put this in perspective, our participation in the recycling program that centers on the Springfield MRF is one of the most successful in the state. Don’s intention here seems to be an effort to try to get us to do better. This is commendable, but an accurate assessment and a pat-on-the-back would’ve been more appreciated.

Although Don correctly identified many of factors that we must consider in the upgrade of the town’s solid waste program, it was totally premature to recommend that the town continue to manage solid waste as a town operation. This can only be determined through a professional cost-benefit analysis (CBA). The purpose of the CBA is to provide a basis for comparing projects. Without comparisons, how can we know what we are proposing is best for our town? While Don provided forum participants with some comparisons, it is now time to bring in a professional to do a full-blown CBA so we can feel confident that we have the full-picture.

Automated collection and single stream recycling should be in the conversation when speaking about alternatives because a handful of western Massachusetts municipalities have recently adopted these programs. West Springfield and Agawam privatized their automated curbside collection systems, while Westfield and Chicopee implemented municipally-operated automated collection systems. The result is that these communities have reported successes in waste reduction and waste diversion (recycling). Improvements also include significant reductions in: wind-blown litter from open recycling bins, orphan trash left on the curb from outside the community, worker compensation cases for municipal employees, and collection vehicle traffic, diesel fumes and noise. In my opinion, the greatest measure of success comes from the high satisfaction rates in all population sectors including the elderly, multi-family residents, immigrant neighborhoods and low-, medium- and high-income neighborhoods.

This is how automated collections systems work. Qualified households are provided with two carts on wheels. One cart is dedicated to weekly collection of trash and the other is for recyclables and is picked up every other week. For max efficiency, recyclables are collected in a single stream, meaning that eligible glass, plastic and metal be mixed with paper and cardboard in the recycling cart. (The mechanical separation is done at the recycling plant.) At the curb, the truck driver uses an automated arm that reaches out and picks up the cart and tips its contents into the trash truck for compaction. These vehicles can service 800 households per day, versus the 350 households with Greenfield’s existing vehicles.

In summary, I would urge the town to have a professional cost-benefit analysis done for updating the town’s curbside collection system. As for the control issue brought up by David Cohen in his March 12 My Turn column, there are many options that can be stipulated in bidding documents for addressing this concern. Fortunately for Greenfield, there are at least 5 companies that I am aware of operating in Massachusetts that could compete for providing these services. Having a contractor may or may not work for Greenfield, but we must have accurate numbers before we can have a meaningful conversation and a final decision.

Michael Pattavina is the Franklin County Rep. on the Springfield MRF Advisory Board and a member of theSustainable Greenfield Implementation Committee.