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November 30, 2012

Bags cut waste, save city $1M

In the three-plus years since Gloucester switched from trash stickers to “pay as you throw,” and introduced purple bags for throwing, the city has seen at least a 28 percent decrease in collected waste — 6,000 tons in the aggregate — and nearly $1 million in savings, according to Mayor Carolyn Kirk.

The mayor made her case study presentation in conjunction with WasteZero — the North Carolina-based company that manufactures the bags, known colloquially around town as “Barney bags,” a reference to the television dinosaur of the same color — at the National League of Cities convention in Boston on Thursday.

The convention attracted representatives of 3,000 cities. About 50 were in attendance for Kirk’s presentation in one of the 10 “solution theaters” at the Boston Convention and Exposition Center. The four-day convention ends today.

Kirk revisited the presentation in an interview Friday. The “pay as you throw” program in 2009 during her first term. Until then, trash was financed by the sale of stickers, which encouraged gaming the system in various ways, as well as eyesores and organic trash exposed by seagulls and careless residents.

Kirk said the decision to require residents to acquire trash bags themselves, at a cost of $2 each and sold in packages of five, meant that residents no longer could cut stickers in two or pile bags with a stickered bag on top. At the same time, the city began collecting recyclables weekly rather than bi-weekly and switched contractors from Waste Management to Hiltz, a city-based collector.

The switch from stickers to Barney bags, a nickname Kirk attributed to then recycling coordinator Kathy Middleton, engendered residents to make a greater effort at economizing through the separation of recyclables from trash.

“You’re not going to get customers excited about the change with environmental arguments,” said Kirk. “The magic happens when you show them savings in line items allowing you to protect other city services. It’s the financial argument that makes it happen.”

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