Borough weighing disposal options for trash

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By Andreas Yilma, Staff Writer

In this screenshot, Kristen Brown, vice president for waste reduction strategy for WasteZero, gives a presentation on trash disposal to the Naugatuck Joint Boards of Mayor and Burgesses and Board of Finance during a virtual meeting Feb. 16. –ANDREAS YILMA

NAUGATUCK — Borough officials are deliberating how to resolve a looming trash disposal dilemma.

The borough contracts with the Materials Innovation and Recycling Authority for disposal of municipal solid waste and recycling. MIRA operates a trash-to-energy plant in Hartford and serves dozens of municipalities in the state.

MIRA charges a tipping fee of $91 a ton to dispose of garbage this fiscal year. It doesn’t charge for disposing of recyclable materials.

The borough generates about 8,400 tons of trash and 2,100 tons of recycling per year, according to Public Works Director James Stewart. The borough’s current budget accounts for $764,000 in tipping fees.

Stewart said the tipping fee is expected to increase to $110 in the 2021-22 fiscal year and the borough is projected to spend $924,000 on tipping fees.

MIRA’s future is cloudy. The trash-to-energy facility needs a $330 million renovation by 2023 to remain active. For the renovation to happen, MIRA needs significant state support or member municipalities to agree to 30-year contracts, which would raise the tipping fee to $145 per ton, the Republican-American previously reported.

Stewart said municipalities aren’t willing to sign up for 30-year contracts with a high tipping fee to pay for the work needed at the plant. He said MIRA is planning to shut down its incinerator in July 2022.

The present contract with MIRA runs through 2027. Whether the borough maintains the status quo remains to be seen.

“You still have a way to dispose of your trash through the MIRA contract, but it may be that it’s not going to be disposed of at the facility, it may end up going out of state,” Kristen Brown, vice president for waste reduction strategy for WasteZero, told the Joint Boards of Mayor and Burgesses and Board of Finance on Feb. 16.

WasteZero is a North Carolina-based company that works with organizations, municipalities and government agencies to reduce waste. Brown gave a presentation to borough officials on behalf of the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection that laid out the situation and a potential alternative.

The alternative presented last week is the Save Money and Reduce Trash (SMART) program, which is rooted in a concept of unit base pricing.

“It’s all kind of the concept of taking the cost of disposal and turning it into a unit based cost similar to electricity or water, so that the resident or the homeowner is sharing some of the costs of that disposal instead of it coming out of the taxes,” Brown said.

The program is a collaborative effort between MIRA and DEEP for municipalities that use MIRA, Stewart said.

Under the program, residents would throw garbage away in designated 33-gallon bags or 15-gallon bags. The retail prices would be $1.50 to $2 for the larger bags and 85 cents to $1.25 for the smaller ones.

Residents would have to buy the bags themselves or the borough would partially pay for them or buy them out right for residents. The bags would be collected as usually in residents’ trash barrels.

Residents whose trash is picked up by the borough would have to use the bags. Residents who live in private complexes that provide their own trash collection wouldn’t have to use the bags.

Under the program, MIRA wouldn’t charge the borough a fee to dispose of garbage.

“The only real change is that people are paying for their trash disposal when they pay for their garbage bags,” Brown said.

Brown said the program creates an incentive for people to dispose of materials differently. She said people are more likely to recycle more materials, like electronics, properly. She said about 550 communities in New England have similar programs in place and they have generated about 50% less waste.

Stewart said borough officials are just exploring their options right now and looking into the advantages and disadvantages of the program.

“I’m not for or against it at this point,” Stewart said. “It’s something that elected officials need to be educated on.”

Officials had a mixed reaction to the program.

Burgess Bob Neth said the goal is to see how to reduce taxes.

“Is this a project or process we want to start and I believe it is, quite honestly,” Neth said.

Board of Finance Chairman Dan Sheridan said he’s concerned that taxpayers will have to incur a cost to buy the bags.

“You’ll see a savings in the budget but you won’t see a savings to the taxpayer because the mill rate won’t be adjusted downward by that amount,” Sheridan said.

Mayor N. Warren “Pete” Hess said in a later interview there are no plans right now to change what the borough is doing. He said all the joint boards did was listen to a presentation that DEEP set up.

“I have no interest in passing cost to the taxpayer,” Hess said.

Hess added, “The state nerveless has a problem and we will look for a solution.”