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The Future of Solid Waste in Durham

In 1990, the New Hampshire Legislature passed RSA 149-M, which established two interdependent objectives to deal with solid waste. A preferred hierarchy for waste disposal was created and is shown in the chart above. Landfilling is the least preferred option, while recycling and composting are among the most preferred. The second objective was a 40% reduction in municipal solid waste sent to incinerators and landfills by the year 2000. Sadly, a baseline was not established, and the year 2000 time line was delayed.

Durham currently sends 1540 tons of waste to the Turnkey Landfill in Rochester, and 541 tons are recycled in three streams. If the Town used this as our baseline and adopted the state goal of a 40% reduction in municipal solid waste while following the acceptable disposal hierarchy, 616 tons would be removed from the municipal waste stream.

Pay-As-You-Throw (PAYT)

PAYT is a strategy used by over 10,000 communities across the nation to increase recycling and reduce overall solid waste. It uses the same pricing concept as electricity, water, propane, and heating oil. Durham residents pay for solid waste based on the value of their homes. Unit pricing provides a more equitable solution by charging residents only for what they use. In this system, residents must purchase town-approved bags for trash to be collected during curbside pickup or brought to the transfer station. 15 gallon bags usually sell for around a dollar, and 33 gallon bags sell for around two dollars. Bags are priced to provide an incentive for recycling, reuse, and composting. A recent UNH study of 34 towns in New Hampshire using PAYT found solid waste disposal rates decreased 42 to 54 percent compared to towns that did not use PAYT. This system is currently used in Dover, Newmarket, and Exeter.

If PAYT where implemented, and did achieve a 40% reduction in municipal solid waste by diverting all 616 tons into recycling using current fees, Durham would save $372.26 (basically expense-neutral). Assuming that each 33 gallon bag hold 20 pounds of trash and costs $2.50, PAYT would generate $231,000. This money could be used offset the cost of the solid waste and recycling program.

Future Recycling Fees

Durham is at the end of its current contract with Waste Management and is in the process of working on the next one. It appears there will be a slight increase in municipal solid waste tipping (disposal) fees, but the co-mingle and single stream recycling will see significant increases. If the Town does nothing and continues to send 1540 tons to the landfill and recycle 541 tons, solid waste costs would increase $26,355.26. How would these tipping fee increases impact the 40% municipal waste reduction goal?

A 40% reduction diverted into our current recycling system coupled with 2020 tipping fee rates would result an a $46,971.23 increase over current solid waste costs.

How Do We Reduce the Impact of Increased Recycling Costs?

During Steve Lisauskas's presentation at the November 4, 2019 Town Council meeting, data from communities that had implemented PAYT was presented. An interesting finding was that not all of the reduction in municipal solid waste is diverted into traditional recycling streams. It encourages donation to non-profits and composting, and a conservative estimate is that this captures 10 percent of total municipal solid waste. How would this impact the cost of Durham's solid waste program using future disposal rates?

While it would significantly close the gap between the 40% reduction and current practice costs, it is $30,348.03 more than the current solid waste contract cost. How can we close this gap?

Glass is heavy and no longer generates revenue. The Northeast Resource Recovery Association recommended program for handling glass is to crush it unsorted, along with other glass like materials (ceramics, Pyrex, etc.), which produces a processed glass aggregate (PGA) that may be used as a replacement for or as a mixture with construction aggregate (e.g. gravel and sand) in various projects, as long as it is not left exposed on the surface. Presently, the use of the material in private construction requires a professional engineer’s or architect’s approval, as required by DES’s current Certified Waste Derived Product specification for the product. Can glass be removed from the co-mingle stream and crushed for less than the $80.49 landfill tipping fee?

Organics or compostable material is also heavy and is conservatively estimated to comprise 20% of municipal solid waste. Using Durham's current municipal numbers, composting has the potential to divert 308 tons from the Turnkey Landfill. While the PAYT incentive is likely to cause some residents to begin composting, curbside pickup would likely maximize participation.

Mr. Fox Composting runs a composting collection service that offers a model of how that could work. Customers get a tall kitchen can to collect veggie and meat scraps. A truck empties the bin every two weeks and provides a new compostable liner bag. Durham owns its garbage trucks and the Integrated Waste Management Advisory Committee members ( IWMAC) have suggested using them to collect compost and transport it to a composting facility. A key consideration to this plan would be to keep the cost below $80 per ton.

Mixed Paper is the most expensive tipping fee, and while cardboard has value, other paper does not. China is no longer accepting it, and there is limited local processing capacity. IWMAC is investigating if some could be sent to Wheelabrator Technologies in Concord. They operates an incinerator that converts 575 tons daily waste into electricity. While this reduced tonnage would not be part of our waste reduction goal, waste to energy is higher on the accepted waste reduction hierarchy.

How Do We Decide Our Pathway Forward?

On November 4th, the Durham Town Council held a public hearing on PAYT and heard feedback from the community. A major misconception was that it was an additional tax on residents. It is actually an incentive program. Additional revenue from the bags would be used to offset the cost of the solid waste program. Given the escalating cost of co-mingled recycling and future landfill capacity issues, sound environmental practices are our best hope to stabilize future solid waste disposal costs. The use of PAYT coupled with changes to the recycling program appear to be the best pathway forward. More information needs to be collected about the details of a PAYT contract and on the specifics of glass, mixed paper, and compostables disposal. This will help guide the Durham Town Council on how to proceed. More information will be directed to Friday updates, and future Town Council agendas can be found at the Town website.

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