HANSON — What a difference a year makes.
In the 12 months since Hanson has operated it’s transfer station on a “pay-as-you-throw” basis, the town has gone from resistance by some residents to a 64-percent reduction in trash tonnage, according to contract hauler WasteZero and town health officials.
The town has also saved $51,000 in disposal fees, while more than doubling its recycling rate — from 16 to 38 percent — reported Joshua Kolling-Perin, WasteZero’s director of public engagement.
The program, managed by WasteZero as part of the WasteZero Trash Metering service offering, began on July 1, 2014. Municipal solid waste (MSW) decreased from 2,752 tons in fiscal year 2013 (the year before pay-as-you-throw) to 986 tons in FY2014.
Departing Town Administrator Ron San Angelo said Friday, Aug. 7 that he was encouraged, if not surprised, at the development.
“I’m extremely pleased, because the program has done everything we said it was going to do,” San Angelo said. “It dramatically affected people’s habits in how they throw away trash, which is important.”
Health Agent Donna Tranontana credited the commitment of Hanson’s residents.
“The pay-as-you-throw program could not have been successful without the cooperation and support from the residents of Hanson.” she said.
San Angelo said residents, including himself, have become very focused on what can be recycled, and how they can save money on municipal trash bags. He also said people are finding a sense of pride in helping protect the environment through recycling.
“When you pour this big container of recyclables into the bins it makes you feel good about who you are and what you’re doing to contribute,” he said. “I know I feel better about it when I recycle big amounts.”
San Angelo noted the complaints about the program have also reduced as the level of recycling has increased.
“When we first did this program everybody and anybody was complaining about going to it, because it was fear of the unknown,” he said. “We don’t get any complaints anymore.”
In fact, he said, residents have been complementing the program of late. It is not an unfamiliar evolution of attitude among public policy changes.
“One of the biggest obstacles to improving government is the fear of change,” he said. “Political leaders, like boards of selectmen, because people are angry at the beginning have a hard time voting for those changes.”
Hanson adopted its pay-as-you-throw program partly in response to an upcoming dramatic increase in its tipping fee, the cost the town pays to dispose of its garbage. The town had been paying $34.50 per ton, and expected a significant increase when its disposal contract with SEMASS Covanta expired in December 2014. The tipping fee is now $55 per ton.
Under the program, residents use official orange bags stamped with the Hanson seal to dispose of their trash at the town’s transfer station. Being more aware of the cost of their garbage makes residents more likely to recycle and divert other productive materials from the waste stream.
The bags are sold at 13 retail outlets in and around Hanson. They are available in two sizes: 30-gallon ($2 per bag, sold in packages of five) and 15-gallon ($1.25 per bag, sold in packages of eight). Recycling at the transfer station is free.
San Angelo credited the Board of Selectmen that voted for pay-as-you-throw for facing that initial anger.
“They had the guts to make a tough decision,” San Angelo said. “And because they had the guts to make a tough decision on pay-as-you-throw, they created a situation where we saved a dramatic amount of money, improved the environment, we have a much better program than we ever had, an improved facility and we have over $100,000 in the reserve fund.”
Those funds, originating from tipping fee savings rather than bag revenues, should be left in the reserve fund to help finance the DEP-ordered capping of the ash landfill, he argues.
The municipal bag requirement and new stickers prohibited small business and contractors from dumping job site refuse — as well as former residents who were continuing to use the transfer station despite having moved out of town — from continuing those practices at taxpayer expense.