Saying the bulk of responses has been positive in a city-wide pilot program asking residents to participate, Mayor Nancy Rossi defended “compliance notices” stuck to doors and orange “violation” notices that were found on trash bins.
A December pilot program, “Food Scraps to Energy” sent red flags some residents just before Christmas with a notice that “compliance monitoring” would begin. The much-touted program seeks to have residents separate food scraps, fruit peals coffee grounds and other such refuse in bags that were made available earlier in the fall.
The green bags are the place for food scraps, while orange bags are to be used for regular trash.
A Cheshire-based company, Waste Zero, will take the bags and turn the waste into biofuels. This program is seen to head off what is called a growing problem in the state on refuse disposal.
While the distribution of the bags took place early, many residents don’t have the bags, and there is nothing to indicate the program is mandatory. Some residents are not participating either because they don’t have the bags, or they prefer to keep things as they are.
When orange “violation” notices were tagged onto trash bins last week, calls to the Voice and other publications were made.
Rossi said her office took more than 900 emails and calls over the last week, and believes the residents are behind the program, which was funded by a state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) $1.3 million grant.
“We have responded to over 600 emails, and 300 phone messages inquiring about the program. Less than ½ of one percent were negative responses. Most of our residents appear to be willing to give this a try, and others are enthusiastic,” she said.
She said the city is adapting the program as the process moves along, and “adapting to citizen feedback.”
She does admit, some of the verbiage has been problematic to some residents.
“While the term ‘compliance’ is used by the waste management industry to describe all waste disposal habits, it appears to have been misinterpreted by a minority of residents,” she said. “The city has changed the notice to reflect the intent of the program and will be deploying the new notices as of Jan. 12.”
She said the need for as many people to participate is necessary for statistical purposes. No fines are contemplated for those who do not participate.
“In order to collect accurate data, we need as many households as possible to participate. Those that cannot for a disability reason or will not for personal reasons will not be fined but encouraged to try the program to help us get feedback for improvement. We are only talking about three simple concepts here: One bag for trash, one bag for food scraps, and put them in the same can for collection,” she said.
The program is a means to get ahead of what she sees as a growing problem nationwide, and the program as established is economical to the city.
“This program is the only low-cost initiative that the city has available to it to mitigate the rising costs of disposal. Therefore, the success of this pilot is of paramount importance to our citizens. We don’t want to be in a position of having to cut other valuable services to pay for waste disposal if there is an alternative,” she said.
As far as the city taking steps to codify the program, that is sometime off in the future, according to the mayor.
“The city will not consider legislation to adopt the program until we have had an opportunity to review the data from the pilot program, conduct public hearings, and satisfy ourselves the program is worthwhile,” she said. “That said, it is worth noting that the State of Massachusetts became the 12th state in the nation to adopt a similar program, and we realistically must plan for that happening here in CT as well. Therefore, as mayor, I feel it is important to prepare the citizens of West Haven for what appears to be inevitable, and I am glad we can do this on grant funds and not from our own pocket.”
The mayor took the opportunity to defend the vendor, Waste Zero, as the consultant on the program. One reader said, “If a company is going to make money off conversion of the garbage, let them sort it out.” That was a reference to the sorting done through the bags. Her defense went in a different direction.
“As to the consultant, the premise that there is something illegitimate about hiring a consultant is a misnomer. All governments routinely contract out services and purchase goods from for-profit firms. In this case, DEEP through normal State procurement regulations selected this consulting vendor to help the towns implement the State funded program,” she said. “The city has cooperated with the program framed by the state and employed this vendor using the grant funds to distribute bags and monitor the citizen participation. Further, the City of West Haven published a public bid for the manufacture of the bags, which was won by Waste Zero in an open and fair public bid.”
Rossi said the program is the way of the future, and the city should get on board.
“The city and DEEP has made a concerted effort to educate our citizens on the waste management crisis, we as a nation are facing and the dramatic threat rising costs make to our delicately balanced budget,” she said finally.