Residential Trash Volumes Waydown, Recycling Is Up:City Welcomes Competition of a New Transfer Station

By Seth Daniel

The amounts of residential trash volumes have plummeted since 2005 citywide, while recycling volumes have more than doubled, but City waste reduction officials said they would still support a new trash transfer station in Charlestown to help increase efficiency and competition.

“Residential volumes all have been trending downward,” said Robert DeRosa, superintendent of waste reduction at the Boston Department of Public Works (DPW). “That’s been the case since 2003. In 2005, we had 253,000 tons of residential trash and 14,000 tons of recycling. In 2015, just 10 years later, it was 187,000 tons of residential trash and 35,000 tons of recycling. Basically, you’re seeing a net volume drop of 45,000 tons in total over that time. A lot of that has to do with what we don’t accept at the curb. At one time, construction waste was a given. We don’t take that anymore. Some of it has to do with prohibited items like televisions, and other parts of it is the density of the products. It’s also about the packaging of the things people buy. Companies don’t package things as heavily as they used to, so there’s less packaging being thrown away.”

As to the transfer station proposal in Charlestown – which is currently being introduced to the community by Casella, which operates a recycling facility in the Bunker Hill Industrial Park and wishes to add a 650 ton per day solid waste trash transfer station in the future – there might be some value and efficiency in the idea.

“Increased competition is always welcome,” said DeRosa. “Right now we’re pretty much contracted to three companies – Republic in Roxbury, Wheelabrator in Saugus, and Covanta in Braintree and Lynn. It’s all about efficiency and turnaround.”

Brian Coughlin, also of the DPW Waste Reduction, said having a facility in Boston is a positive for the haulers and could help get the job done quicker.

“From a hauler’s standpoint, it’s a dream come true where you could have [a facility] in Boston proper,” he said. “It’s more efficient to have a facility more central to the city and the trucks would have a quicker turnaround time, they’d be out collecting more than driving, get done quicker and it would create less traffic on the roads.”

Added DeRosa, “Our residential volumes are trending down, but as a taxpayer, if we have more competition at these facilities, we can get a better bid. It won’t have to take up as big a chunk of the money in the budget. It could be a savings that is substantial.”

In Boston, the Fiscal Year 2016 budget for collection is $22.5 million, and the budget for disposal is $13.8 million. There is a substantial amount of savings already in those numbers due to the falling volumes and the better deals that have been cut with disposal companies (known as tipping fees). However, more competition could bring even better prices, both men said.

Casella officials indicated at a public meeting in Charlestown recently that trash volumes are going up, and while that isn’t exactly true for residential pickups, once commercial figures are added in, that could certainly be the case. Finding that out in raw numbers, however, isn’t possible.

While the figures cited by the DPW do include residential trash collections, they do not include commercial trash collections (which includes businesses/hospitals, large apartment buildings, industrial companies and other private pick-up clients). Those numbers, which are believed to be on the rise, are not compiled for Boston whatsoever. A spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) said they keep commercial trash volume information, but only in statewide data and that there is no information available for individual communities.

DeRosa said transfer stations often have to turn back private haulers who are not contracted because they have reached their limit for the day. Trash transfer stations and disposal locations are permitted by the DEP to accept a certain tonnage per day; once they reach that limit in a day, they must shut down. So, contracted clients such as the City of Boston are taken first.

“Each transfer station or disposal facility has a permit that will allow them to take in x-amount of trash tons per day,” DeRosa said. “Not to exceed their disposal permit, it is not unusual for a disposal facility to send out notices to their non-contracted customers that they will be closing in the morning to accommodate contracted customer volumes.”

Coughlin said many of the big new residential buildings could be adding to that commercial volume. While the City does pick up trash at those buildings twice a week, often the buildings have found a need for pick-ups every day. Therefore, they often hire commercial haulers to pick up their trash on the off days.

“They’ll often call BFI or Waste Management or other companies for a commercial pick-up when we don’t pick it up,” he said. “Those buildings aren’t affecting our numbers and residentially we’re not seeing it. There is an uptick in the commercial at the trash transfer stations. There was a time and place when they were out looking for volume. Now they aren’t…The need for a transfer station is something where you’d have to take a look at residential and commercial demands.”

As an interesting aside, DeRosa and Coughlin said most of Boston’s residential trash does not go to a landfill. Many people often assume that the trash they put on the curb is being thrown in some open field somewhere many miles away, but it isn’t the case.

“You hear people say ‘Keep it out of a landfill, keep it out of a landfill,’ but most of our trash doesn’t go to a landfill,” said Coughlin. “Most of it goes to an incineration facility and is burned.”

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