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.