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"Municipalizing" contracted solid waste and recycling services

Carl L. Quiram, P.E.
Director of Public Works
Town of Goffstown, New Hampshire
Presenter, 2005 APWA Congress

Goffstown, NH is probably like many small towns in America. We abut the City of Manchester, New Hampshire's largest city to the west. As a small bedroom community (population 17,000) we have a heavily residential tax base. The majority of our residents work and shop in Manchester but rely on Goffstown to provide the many services that they require for their quality of life. As in most communities, beside the school system, the Public Works Department is by far the largest department in town government. We provide the obvious public works services. We also provide maintenance for the entire town fleet, care of the cemeteries, engineering services, and comprehensive solid waste and recycling services. The focus of this article is our new solid waste and recycling services.

By way of history, we closed our municipal landfill in 1993. At that time, Goffstown was already one of the very few small towns in New Hampshire that provided curbside collection of refuse and have been doing so since the early 1970s. In 1993, the Town constructed a transfer station and hired a contractor to haul the refuse. We also began evaluating the other solid waste services provided and considered privatization. At the time, it took 5½ days for two three-man packer trucks to collect the Town's refuse.

There was a fairly strong sentiment that the curbside collection should be privatized. The Town fathers, along with input from civic organizations, felt that recycling should be implemented as well. The local Rotary Club initiated a pilot recycling program. The Board of Selectmen appointed a Citizen's Solid Waste Advisory Committee to study the alternatives and make recommendations. The Town also hired a Solid Waste Coordinator to work with the Solid Waste Committee. After much study, the committee recommended the Town continue to provide curbside refuse collection and implement automated collection technology. The committee also recommended a private curbside recycling collection, which was the typical dual-stream curbside program. The grassroots-supported effort won the day. At a Town Meeting in 1995 Goffstown became the first community in New Hampshire to implement automated refuse collection.

Goffstown's new recycling building, collection vehicle and totes

Over the past several years, Goffstown faced financial strains. One of the most significant was the rising and seemingly uncontrollable costs of solid waste and recycling services for collection, hauling and disposal. Our solid waste and recycling budget makes up almost 15% of the overall town budget. Obviously, a change to the solid waste budget has a fairly significant impact on the Town's bottom line. The community was also frustrated by the relatively flat performance of our recycling program and the poor service we were receiving.

The Department of Public Works took the initiative to conduct a comprehensive analysis of our entire solid waste program. We evaluated many different options for collection, hauling and disposal, including elimination of recycling, dual-stream and single-stream collection. We evaluated costs of private contractors versus the use of municipal forces.

The study revealed significant savings could be realized if the Town invested in new technology and expanded municipal forces to provide the work.

In 2003, we presented our hauling program recommendation, which was approved. We purchased a tractor-trailer unit, backup truck, walking floor refuse trailers, 64-yard roll-off cans and a roll-off trailer. We also hired an additional driver. In early 2004, when our hauling contract expired, we began our own hauling operation. This has resulted in an annual savings of more than $96,000, and we provide the same services and have total control on the scheduling and quality of the service provided.

The first recycling proposal presented at the 2003 Town Meeting was a dual-stream collection program. We would have issued two different colored totes to residents and provided fiber collection one week and commingled containers collection the next. Given the added up-front costs of providing two totes per household, this program would have provided marginal savings over the current program. We also presented a pay-as-you-throw proposal that same year that was very unpopular. As a result, we think largely due to the confusion over the two articles, both articles failed. The message we got from our interactions with residents was that we needed to simplify the program.

  Driver Terry Bourk with Goffstown's hauling equipment

After the Town Meeting in 2003, we researched other alternatives. With the discovery of nearby single-stream facilities we were able to capitalize on the simplicity of single-stream recycling. Though single-stream is not new to the nation, it is not prevalent in the northeast. Single-stream recycling is a program where all recyclables—commingled containers, paper fiber, 1-7 plastics, Styrofoam, etc.—are all thrown into one tote. Materials are later sorted at a single stream MRF. This system is simple for the user to figure out and works well with automated collection equipment. The material is collected in the same type of vehicle as our refuse, which is already familiar to our residents. This simplicity to the end user is what we believe allowed us to sell the program to the voters and has led to its initial success. Being the first community in our state to utilize single-stream technology, the Town also took a chance on an international relationship with a company from Canada to provide for the processing of the materials. The program was approved at the 2004 Town Meeting.

The warrant article that passed involved a bond issue in the amount of $533,000. The annual payment of this bond amount is offset by the program savings which allowed us to implement this new program with no impact on the budget's bottom line. When the bond issue is paid off in eight years there will be an overall savings in excess of $100,000 per year. Our contract with the private vendor was in effect until August 2004 so we had a very short implementation timeframe. We constructed a new recycling building with a loading dock, and purchased a skid steer loader, an automated refuse collection vehicle and 5,100 65-gallon totes to provide to our curbside customers. We met our deadline, though it was very close. Our equipment vendors did a great job in supporting us through implementation. On the operations side of our budget, we also hired a new solid waste truck driver. We now have three automated refuse collection vehicles in the fleet, two on the road and one backup. Our drivers collect the 5,100 stops in the Town in a four-day collection week.

The overall efficiencies of the new programs have resulted in significant reductions in the Town's solid waste and recycling costs. While absorbing large increases in fuel, labor and insurance costs, we were able to reduce our solid waste and recycling budget request by 20% as compared to what we would have asked for if the new program was not implemented. The new program has also resulted in a 50% increase in recycling, which is attributable to some degree to the expansion of service, but most likely is due to the simplicity of single-stream collection.

Carl Quiram will give a presentation on this subject at the APWA Congress in Minneapolis in September. He can be reached at (603) 497-3617 or at cquiram@ci.goffstown.nh.us.