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Pittsfield Board of Health Gets Update On Toter System Plan
By Andy McKeever, iBerkshires Staff
02:12AM / Tuesday, August 08, 2017
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PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Board of Health Chairman Jay Green sees proposed changes to the city's trash collection system as a way to fight blight.
 
An internal working group has been working on the details of moving to an automated toter system for trash collection all summer. The plan is to provide city-issued totes — a 32-gallon one for trash and a 95-gallon one for recycling — to residents. Those totes will allow for Republic Services, the company that contracts with the city to collect the rubbish, the ability to use trucks with automated arms to do so.
 
Health Director Gina Armstrong sits on the internal working committee and told the Board of Health last week that the details are still being worked on. In May, another member of that working group said the plan would be more developed in "early summer" but the timeline for the final proposal had not been set. The working committee of city officials has been meeting regularly on sorting out the details.
 
"It is very comprehensive program and it is still in its development stages," Armstrong said.
 
The plan intrigues some members of the Board of Health members because of its help toward blight.
 
"This sounds to be that it will help with the blight issue we have," Green said. "This system sounds far more organized."
 
The containers are seen as ways to limit the amount of trash that gets spread across city streets on collection days. Currently, trash cans and bags are piled onto the sidewalks where animals and weather get to them. Additionally, the issuance of recycling totes, a limit on the amount of trash, and moving to a "single stream" system is eyed to increase the amount of recycling residents do. The city has a recycling rate of about 11 percent, and that is expected to triple once the program is in place.
 
"This new system would be a way of creating behavior change, be more of a green environment," Armstrong said.
 
Armstrong told the Board of Health that making the change will require "extensive public outreach and education" and the internal group is considering the best ways to do that. The internal committee is planning a long period of public engagement about the program before it goes live.
 
Armstrong said the city is also looking at additional staff to do enforcement of the program, which is eyed to be paid for through state funding.
 
Getting enough totes for city households was estimated to cost $1.8 million, a figure the city doesn't have in its budget nor does it have in the capital plan. Those involved say the city is looking for a grant from the Department of Environmental Protection. The group was applying for such a grant in June and hopes to hear back this fall.
 
Overall, early estimates have called for $87,000 per year in savings.
 
But, selling it to the City Council and the public isn't going to be easy. This marks the third attempt the city has considered to make a major overhaul of the system. So far, the plans have failed to receive the council votes to do so.
 
What is likely going to be of much debate is limiting the amount of trash a resident can throw away. The early recommendations of the plan call for residents to be limited to the 32-gallon tote for free and if there is more trash than what fits, the homeowner would have to buy bags from the city. Or, residents could be allowed to purchase extra totes.
 
Such things as the prices for the overflow bags are being worked out internally, Armstrong said.
 
Green said additional bags for the transfer station in North Adams, where he used to work, were inexpensive. Board of Health member Steve Smith suggested residents buy many bags just to keep around the house for those instances.
 
Mayor Linda Tyer touted the implementation of such a system in her budget proposal and so far it continues to remain on the front burner for many city officials. The discussion has been ongoing since last September. Details of the most recent proposal should be rolling out soon.
 
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