Concord chooses to shift from burying its trash to burning it

By SRUTHI GOPALAKRISHNAN

Concord Monitor

Published: 03-26-2023 9:12 PM

After a 10-year deal with Casella Waste Systems, Concord is on track to shift from burying its trash to burning it.

Under the terms of their new contract set to begin on July 1, 2024, Casella will continue to collect and transport the city’s waste, but instead of hauling it to a landfill up north, it will be brought to the Wheelabrator incinerator, a waste-to-energy facility in Penacook, N.H., owned by WIN Waste Innovations.

At a public discussion on the city’s waste contract on Tuesday, Chip Chesley, the director of General Services said that based on the combined costs of collection Casella and WIN Waste Innovations had been identified as the lowest-cost provider for the city’s solid waste collection services.

“The practices of waste disposal through incineration at a waste-to-energy facility is aligned with the state’s ordered preference for solid waste management, which places such technologies over traditional disposals such as landfill,” said Chesley.

For the past several years, Casella has transported Concord’s waste to its transfer station in Allenstown, N.H., where materials are sorted and transported to the company’s recycling facility in Massachusetts. The remaining waste is then taken to the North Country Environmental Services landfill in Bethlehem, N.H.

Gail Page, a member of Concord’s trails committee raised concerns about the extent of recycling that Casella could do and whether there were more options for recycling and decreasing what goes to the incinerator.

She also expressed environmental concerns about the method of disposal.

“There have been questions in the past about what happens to the fumes that come out of there (Wheelabrator facility),” said Page. “I don’t know the answer to that, but it does concern me. Burning our trash keeps it out of the landfill but what are we adding to the (environment) is my question.”

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The new contract, however, is conditional in terms of length, and it is dependent on City Council’s approval for a gradual transition from manual solid waste and recycling collection where a worker throws material into the back of a truck by hand and switching to an automated collection system where the driver uses a mechanical arm to lift up the trash bin and dump it into the truck. If the transition is successful, the city will have the option of negotiating a five, seven, or 10-year contract. However, if the city does not make this change, a five-year contract for manual collection will be secured.

One of the two companies that responded to the city’s request for proposals for collection services did not offer manual collection, while the other indicated that they would only provide manual collection for a five-year period.

“We believe that this is the last contract the city will have that includes manual curbside collection,” Chesley said, explaining how labor market challenges in all industries have led to automation.

Other municipalities in the state like Manchester, Nashua, Rochester, N.H., Londonderry, N.H., Laconia, N.H., and Bow, N.H., have already moved to automated collection.

Concord resident Roy Schweiker was skeptical of the automated collection system due to the city’s streets. Some streets, he said, are too steep for large container trucks, while others cannot accommodate them due to the risk of coming into contact with overhead power lines.

“There are areas of the city where I think containerization would work great,” Schweiker said but suggested that the city have a “hybrid collection where some people have containers and some have packer trucks” instead.

At present, the city pays approximately $70 per ton for disposing of waste, but it is anticipated that this amount will increase to the market’s average rate of roughly $100 per ton with the new contract.

The city’s current contract with Casella, a Vermont-based waste management company, was signed in 2013. Since then, the market for recyclables market has changed dramatically as a result of a variety of factors including fluctuations in supply and demand, changes in government policies, and the emergence of new technologies.

The impact of China’s National Sword policy, which went into effect in 2018, has been the most significant change in the recyclables market. The policy was intended to reduce the amount of contaminated recyclable materials imported into China while also encouraging domestic recycling. In addition, strict quality control measures were imposed on mixed paper, recycled plastics, and other types of recyclable materials, such as scrap metal and plastic. As a result, many countries which had previously relied heavily on exporting recyclables to China, now have a surplus of recyclable materials.

At the same time, there is a growing interest in developing domestic recycling markets and reducing reliance on exports, which has resulted in increased investment in recycling infrastructure.

In Goffstown, N.H., Aurum Recovery Group recycles, refurbishes and resells electronics, and the town’s solid waste center in Gilford, N.H., allows residents to recycle Styrofoam, a difficult-to-reuse packaging material.

When it comes to the recycling market, industry practices have also changed. The two vendors who responded to the city’s RFP for collection services, according to the city, have set fixed processing fees for breaking down the recyclable material stream into its components in order to share the risk. Participants in the industry are no longer willing to bear all of the risks associated with processing and marketing municipal recyclables.

Due to the volatility of the recycling market, the city will now have to start budgeting for recycling services, a cost it did not previously bear. The city may have to pay an average of $100 per ton for recycling services.

Based on a three-year approximation of Casella’s pricing index and taking into account the volume of recyclables produced by the city, it was predicted that the city may be required to pay fees for recycling services that range from a minimum of $75.45 per ton to a maximum of $191.77 per ton.

Residents of Concord will use purple pay-as-you-throw (PAYT) trash bags during the pilot phase, which will gradually transition the city to an automatic collection system. Further decisions will be made regarding the purple bags after the program’s effectiveness has been determined.

The solid advisory committee will hold the second public discussion on the issue on March 28. Based on public feedback, the City Council will make a decision on two matters on April 10 – the Wheelabrator facility as the city’s solid waste disposal site and the transition to an automated residential curbside collection program.

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