Only Westville residents will get new garbage toters this year, as the city phases in recycling reforms after a deal with a contractor fell through.
That was the word Monday from Rob Smuts, the city’s chief operating officer. Smuts is in charge of a new plan to improve the city’s recycling rates. Original plans called for giving residents bigger containers for recycling, tracking how much they recycle, and rewarding them accordingly using “RFID” chips.
Those recycling reforms have been tied up as the city waited for a contractor named RecycleBank to come through with its end of a 10-year contract with the city. The deal was approved by aldermen, but never was finalized because RecycleBank couldn’t get financing together.
Monday, Smuts pronounced that deal “dead,” and outlined the next steps.
The city will move ahead with scaled-back plans that will be phased in over the course of three years, Smuts said.
The plans involve spending $1.6 million in city money to buy 35,000 new garbage toters over the course of three years.
A second aspect of the reforms—switching to “single-stream” recycling, where people can throw paper and cans in the same bin without separating them—has already taken place, Smuts said. The city quietly switched to single-stream two months ago, without fanfare, he said: “You don’t have to sort your recycling.”
A third component, rewarding people for how much they recycle, remains on hold for now.
Westville will be the focus of the first phase of the reforms, Smuts said.
In mid-July, the city plans to roll out about 6,000 new trash bins to the curbs of Westville homes. Everyone on the Monday trash route will get one, Smuts said. They’ll be paid for by a quarter-million-dollar line item in the mayor’s capital budget.
People in Westville will start using these new, 48-gallon brown containers to dispose of their trash. That will free up their 96-gallon blue trash bins to be used for recycling. This simple toter switcheroo has been shown to improve recycling rates in other towns by 50 to 80 percent, Smuts said.
Smuts said Westville was selected because it has the highest recycling rate in the city, and because the Monday trash route has the lowest volume of the five pickup days. Westvillans already know how to recycle, so getting them to do more of it will require less of a “cultural shift,” reckoned Smuts.
Changed habits would bring in new revenue. Every ton of recyclable waste that’s diverted from trash can to recycling bin saves the city $105, according to Smuts. That’s because the city pays to get its garbage removed, but gets paid for recycling.
The city currently recycles 11 percent of its waste, excluding leaf pickup and road waste, Smuts said. That’s higher than the city thought it was—but still way lower than it should be, he said. A 50 percent increase in recycling citywide could save the city $250,000, he said.
Smuts said he expects the pilot phase in Westville to bring in at least $50,000 in savings. He said he’ll ask the aldermen to set aside those savings into an account, to be used to buy more toters. Depending on the amount of savings, and whether aldermen approve, more neighborhoods could get new bins during the FY2010-11 fiscal year. If not, a second phase would unfold in July 2011.
If a home has more 96-gallon and 48-gallon toters than needed, extra bins can be returned to the city, Smuts said.
The new arrangements present a slower pace than the contract with RecycleBank promised. According to the deal that fell through, RecycleBank was going to pay up front for 35,000 new garbage toters. They were going to be rolled out in April of this year. The deal fell apart because RecycleBank could not come up with the financing to buy the toters, Smuts said.
RecycleBank spokeswoman Melody Serafino confirmed that statement.
“The original economics offered on assets was withdrawn, so unfortunately the finances do not support moving forward in a way that makes sense for all parties,” she said. “Should the economics revert back to what was originally quoted, we would be happy to revisit the New Haven community.”
Smuts said the city “might consider” working with RecycleBank on the reforms’ other component—installing RFID chips in the recycling bins to track how much people recycle and reward them for it.
Before taking that step, Smuts said, the city would have to “make sure RecycleBank is going to be able to deliver.”
Meanwhile, the city is moving forward with a separate plan to make recycling easier. The city picks up trash and recycling only for residences with up to six units. Offices and large apartment buildings have to hire their own recycling companies.
The city has made a new offer: For an annual fee of $225, the city would pick up recycling from commercial properties and from apartment buildings with more than six units. The proposal is pending before the Board of Aldermen.