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Pittsfield Reconvenes Resource Recovery As Trash Talk Starts Over
By Andy McKeever, iBerkshires Staff
07:00AM / Saturday, April 21, 2018
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Veronique Blanchard will be heading a recycling education effort for the city. She was assigned to the project by the Department of Environmental Protection.

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The city's Resource Recovery Commission has reconvened after its toter plan was rejected by the City Council.
 
The committee had come together in September 2016 and for more than a year completed an analysis of the city's curbside trash collection. It settled on a plan to overhaul the trash collection with a toter system eyed to decrease the $3 million cost the city pays for trash disposal, increase the 11 percent recycling rate, and combat blight.
 
That plan triggered a strong community backlash and ultimately the City Council rejected it. Mayor Linda Tyer held a series of community meetings, still believing in the toter system's ability to tackle those issues, but ultimately decided to shelve the idea. 
 
An overhaul of the trash collection system is still a priority for the City Council — just not with the toter system. A number of councilors have put in petitions with different aims — whether that be an overhaul of the trash ordinance, increased enforcement, or investigate a bag program. All of that is still in flux and the Resource Recovery Commission has reconvened and will meet on a monthly basis to flesh out alternative ideas.
 
Ward 4 Councilor Christopher Connell and Ward 2 Councilor Kevin Morandi combined on one such petition to run a recycling education program.
 
"The root of the problem is the low rate of recycling," Connell said of the city's costs for trash disposal.
 
Connell suggested launched programs in schools to teach children the importance and details of recycling, who will intern help educate their parents. He also wants to send out mailings to residents outlining the costs and what residents can do to help.
 
"We have some mailings that we send out from the city. We send out water and sewer bills. We send out tax bills. And maybe some informational packages inside those bills will explain the importance of recycling," Connell said. "If they know they can help themselves and help the city, I think that would be beneficial ... Let's make them feel like they can be part of the solution."
 
Morandi echoed those sentiments and added that he'd like to see greater communication with residents about what can be recycled and when. He suggested demonstrations at public events such as Third Thursday.
 
"A lot of people don't know, I've had people come up to me at the senior center, saying they don't know what you can recycle," Morandi said.
 
He added that he'd want to see a greater enforcement of the current laws as well by not collecting more than a certain number of gallons. 
 
"Maybe we can cap it still, keep our current system still, and cap it," Morandi said.
 
The toter system's hope was to cap the amount of trash by providing only the toter. But, councilors had concerns about the city's cost for that and some, like Morandi, are looking for ways to reduce the amount residents throw away without purchasing toters.
 
With both recycling education and enforcement, there are already plans in the works.
 
The city had won a grant from the state Department of Environmental Protection to bring in Municipal Assistance Coordinator Veronique Blanchard to provide assistance.
 
Blanchard is going to be launching a recycling education program. She said she is developing a list of interested individuals to perform an assessment of the current system. Then, the group will develop strategies to get information out — such as crafting the message, determining what types of mediums to use, and developing material. That work is expected to be done by the end of September.
 
Kate Lauzon has already got a jump on that program as well. Lauzon is newly added to the committee but had petitioned the City Council to do such a program last year. Since then she has worked with the Christian Center and Pittsfield Community Television on a program to increase recycling and composting. She has talked with Superintendent of Schools Jason McCandless and the Berkshire Community College Green Team to launch aggressive recycling programs in the schools.
 
"Some of these things have already been put in place," she said.
 
The Resource Recovery Commission agreed to let Blanchard and Lauzon take the lead on that and just check in periodically to make sure progress is being made.
 
Meanwhile, Health Director Gina Armstrong said enforcement efforts of the city code will be increased. The biggest piece is that Republic Services will now leave notes on the most egregious violators of the ordinances and in some cases not picking up large piles of trash.
 
"We're trying to increase the use of that now and communicate the list of properties that were involved to the health department," Armstrong said.
 
Republic Services, the city's contracted trash hauler, will now put those notes on places where there is construction material, major appliances, recyclables not being contained property, and large mounds of bags not in 32-gallon containers. The drivers will then note the date, time, address, and take photos to send to the Health Department to follow up.
 
However, that will be somewhat limited because of the number of city residents who do not use trash containers.
 
"There are so many people who put just a trash bag on the curb, the numbers are just too great to sticker every one," Armstrong said. "If it is just one or two bags on the curb right now, they are not stickering it and taking it."
 
Commissioner of Public Services David Turocy said the hauler for years just picked up everything on the curb. But now bulky items without stickers won't be picked up.
 
"Now we are trying to dial back on that. Right now it is so widespread that we can't do everything," Turocy said.
 
Armstrong is also encouraging residents to report issues they see in their neighborhoods — specifically with photos. Armstrong has previously reported that the department does not have enough staff to do routine enforcement and that it relies a lot on residents reporting issues.
 
"We cannot cover the entire city on a daily basis. The only way we will know about it is through residents notifying us," Armstrong said.
 
Armstrong also added that the department is developing information material to help landlords, who by state law are responsible for tenant's who violate the trash ordinance. She said the department will also be presenting at landlord associations to discuss such things as an addendum to leases to get tenants to comply.
 
Meanwhile, Guardian Life has offered to sponsor a community electronics pick up event in August. Exactly how that event will be held still needs to be sorted but the Resource Recovery Commission is supportive.
 
"I don't know the finances of all of it. I don't know what it will cost. But I am certainly interested in having that conversation," Turocy said, adding that the city runs household hazardous materials collections every other year and he'd love to see electronic collects on the off years.
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