Gloucester residents are recycling more of their waste since the city introduced a controversial new bag-based, pay-as-you-throw trash system three months ago, new figures from the Department of Public Works show.
Now, they'll be able to recycle weekly under changes included in a new trash-disposal contract with a local, rather than national, company.
In February and March of this year, the first two full months since garbage had to be placed in roomy purple bags to be thrown away, recycling increased a combined 13 percent from the same period in 2008, according to numbers provided by Public Works Director Michael Hale yesterday.
Recycling collections in February and March rose by 47 tons from the same period last year, from 366 tons to 413.
At the same time, 29 percent less trash was hauled off to the incinerator, 928 tons this year compared with 1,314 tons in 2008.
Although the recycling gains are more modest than the rubbish-bin reductions, the figures show at least some correlation between how much residents recycle more when they are forced to pay to throw things out.
The numbers answer at least some concerns that trash levels were decreasing not because residents were recycling but because they were hoarding their trash to avoid buying bags, dumping it illegally or stealing it away to other communities.
The city unveiled the purple bag program to reduce the amount spent — calculated per ton — on trash pickup and disposal by encouraging residents to recycle more and throw away less. The sticker program it replaced was deemed too cumbersome and easy to cheat.
Many residents were outraged by the purple bags for reasons ranging from their size and shape to cost, color and incompatibility with barrels.
Although the primary avenue for cost savings from the bags comes from reducing the volume of garbage the city pays to throw out, Hale said based on collections to date this year, the city could expect to bring in $1.3 million in bag sales compared with $900,000 in sticker sales last year.
Hiltz gets new contract
The bag system is not the only change the city is acting on to save money on garbage.
This week, the city announced that it is switching to a new trash collection company and is prepared to sign a new contract that will save hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.
Hiltz Disposal of Gloucester has been awarded a 5-year contract (with an option for two more years) to begin picking up the city's trash starting June 29. The local company will take over for national conglomerate Waste Management, which is now finishing up a 10-year contract with city.
The change in contractor will not alter the times or days of collections, but will result in these additional services for the city:
Weekly recycling instead of biweekly.
Emptying of trash in the 62 barrels downtown and along Stacy Boulevard seven days a week during summer.
A week of leaf and yard waste collection in the spring added to the week each fall.
Garbage collection and disposal costs have dropped across the state in the last 10 years as the rise of recycling has eliminated some incineration and landfill costs.
The new contract cuts the price of disposal from $89 per ton of solid waste this year to $69 per ton. The price of the new deal will increase by $2 per ton each year.
Over a year's worth of dumping, Hale said the new contract could save the city between $300,000 and $500,000 annually.
In its search for the most favorable contract, the city sought bids from companies (not a step required by law for waste removal) and received proposals from five different companies.
"This contract is a model for how to gain more services for residents at less expense," Mayor Carolyn Kirk said. "In exchange for adapting to purple bags, we will redirect the savings to public works services such as roads."
Donald Hiltz, owner of Hiltz Disposal, said yesterday that getting a contract to serve his hometown was a big boost for the company, which has expanded since 1999 to now serve 10 Massachusetts communities, including Manchester and Essex.
"This is something we wanted to do for years, but because of the 10-year contract we had to sit out," Hiltz said.
Patrick Anderson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.