By Benjamin Joe
The City of North Tonawanda’s Sanitation Feasibility Study was recently discussed at a Common Council workshop. The document covers different innovations to lessen the blow of rising costs for garbage and recycling disposal.
Superintendent Mark Zellner of North Tonawanda Public Works, and Dawn Timm, director of the Division of Environmental/Solid Waste for Niagara County DPW, who was also present at the session, prepared the study. She spoke to the Tribune following the workshop.
“It was early February where we embarked on the process and it was the data compilation and collection that probably took the better part of the spring and summer,” Timm said of the study. “Recommendations came in the fall through multiple meetings to get to the point where we’re at.”
“Rising expenses, not only the recycling crisis we’re facing; where many municipalities are forced to pay for recycling, which is something that’s completely foreign to us in Western New York, but also disposal costs are increasing and those pressures start to impact local governments,” she said. “When you have a 2% property tax cap rate, governments have to make really tough decisions about where their expenses and services are going. When you start to see a greater than 2% increase in sanitation, that’s a catalyst for change.
“Also, the City of North Tonawanda was fielding a lot of complaints from its residents concerning how the city looked during bulk collection times. They felt it was a threat; it was a danger. It was obnoxious how some folks were placing out waste … It was unsightly, perhaps attracted vermin, and it was abused.”
“My recommendation is that they restructure their approach to bulk waste management,” Timm said. “Currently the rules for bulk waste are limited to four cubic yards.”
“That’s a lot of volume to allow once a month,” she said. “Your typical homeowner would struggle to put out that amount of waste on a monthly basis, 11 times a year. … You have for for-profit landlord entities that would take advantage of this opportunity on a move-in/move-out basis. Some of the complaints came out that landlords would be potentially be abusing this. … Put it (the bulk waste) out and it would sit there for two weeks. … There’s an enforcement component that’s also recommended with this. But ultimately, your typical single, double family homeowners were subsidizing the disposal habits of a transient population.
“What we’re proposing to do is to not send out a second fleet out to collect the allotted four cubic yards each month.”
Other recommendations in the study to reduce costs include cutting out “high volume users” and reduce the number of trucks on the road by eliminating one of the six routes currently serviced in the city.
“The current criteria for getting flagged as high volume is a parcel that received collection more than once a week, had more than four carts placed out for service, based on DPW records, or the unit itself exceeded four,” Timm said. “The city’s charter indicates that units, up to and including four, can participate in the program. If you’re a five-unit building, you are not eligible for service.
“Over five unit buildings would have to solicit a private service. It was my recommendation to the council to send out a letter to these property owners and indicate that collection would no longer take place, but would allow them the opportunity to petition the city with their case.”
Timm also explained, “To satisfy everyone that has their waste collected on a Monday, there are six trucks and six separate routes to accomplish that collection. We’re proposing that, by restructuring the routes, that we can – by eliminating high volume users – we’re very confident that we can reduce from six daily routes, to five daily routes.”
Another aspect Timm shared was the rising cost of recycling.
“Recycling is still incredibly beneficial. From a supply-chain standpoint, when you’re recovering materials; processing them; selling them; reusing them into another product that is then transported and marketed and reused, there’s far more benefit, from an economic standpoint and an environmental stand point, than it taking a one-way ticket to a landfill where it no longer has a useful life,” she said. “All that aside, what has happened in all western culture here in Europe and the United States is that China has changed its standards on what it will accept for recycling.”
“We were used to giving recycling centers a really dirty product. As an example, probably about 80 to 85% of what was put into our recycling bins was actually recyclable. We were 15 to 20% dirty. China said, ‘We don’t want the United States’ and Europe’s garbage. We’re going to make sure it’s 99-and-a-half percent pure and clean.’ Back to the U.S., we have single stream recycling where everything is thrown into one, and you can’t keep the Prego sauce off your mixed paper. You can’t get off shards of glass in your plastic that simply.”
Therefore, Timm said, what material sites have been doing is to “reprocess” the recyclables. This slows down production and that heightens expenses.
“That increase of processing expenses combined with poor commodity value – commodity value has completely tanked – we don’t have enough value to offset those processing costs,” she said.
Timm said the option of a fee for garbage disposal was discussed in the study, but she didn’t recommend any as she didn’t feel “it was her place” to say what the city does with its money.
Timm said, “In a nutshell, we’re effectively looking to dial it back to a base level of service that satisfies the predominant single and double family homes in the city, and not necessarily creating an all-encompassing service for single to quad-unit homes.”