TSO Moves Forward With New Trash Hauler Bylaw


Photo: CalRecycle

The Town Services And Outreach Committee (TSO) set a preliminary timetable for moving forward with proposed revisions to the town’s trash hauler bylaw and compiled a list of questions for the sponsors at their meeting on March 2, 2023.  The revised bylaw would move the town from a system in which each resident contracts individually with a hauler (currently USA Waste and Recycling) to one in which the town would contract for trash hauling services through a competitive bidding process. The bylaw would adopt measures to reduce the flow of trash into the waste stream including adoption of a pay as you throw system in which households that produce less trash would pay less. The new bylaw would also mandate curbside compost pickup. According to Zero Waste Amherst (ZWA), the proposal is likely to reduce the annual cost of trash disposal for most households.  A description of the proposed changes to the existing bylaw can be found here.  A FAQ on the proposed bylaw revisions from Zero Waste Amherst and a set of answers to questions posed by town councilors is posted below.

A Preliminary Timetable
Town Manager Paul Bockelman reported on his initial meeting with consultant Susan Waite, the Municipal Assistance Coordinator of Western Massachusetts for the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (Mass DEP), who is providing 80 hours of consultation to the town under a technical assistance grant from the Mass DEP. Bockelman reported that the next step in moving the project forward will be to issue a request for information (RFI) to regional haulers to collect information on what services they provide so the town can match that with the services the town council is seeking in the new bylaw. Waite proposed to draft the RFI over the next three weeks in collaboration with Superintendent of Public Works Guilford Mooring and identify all potential vendors who might be interested in bidding for the town’s contract. Bockelman estimated that vendors would need about 3-4 weeks to respond to the RFI. Following that, the town would hold a general information meeting for any vendor interested in responding to an RFP.

Following receipt of the RFI’s Waite will meet with TSO to determine next steps forward. She said that she would like to have a general informational meeting with any hauler who might be interested in responding to an RFP and some community engagement sessions with town residents. Bockelman said that it is likely that the Board of Health will draw up the actual regulations and that he will be able to assign staff to assist them if needed. Waite expected to complete her work with the town over the next 15 weeks.  

Shalini-Bahl Milne, the lead sponsor of the proposal, said that she hoped that the bylaw revision could be written and approved before the November 2023 election, though the work of drafting the actual regulations and issuing an RFP would take additional time, casting doubt on Zero Waste Amherst’s aspiration of implementing the changes by January 2024. Bockelman cautioned that some haulers have indicated that there’s an 18-month wait to acquire trucks after signing a new contract.  Steinberg and Bockelman both cautioned that several of the technical concerns of councilors would need to be worked out by town staff (for the contract) or by the Board of Health (for the regulations) and that they are best left out of the bylaw as it is cumbersome to come back and change a bylaw.

Waite was confident that the questions and concerns of the councilors would all be addressed. Councilors expressed interest in technical details contained in contracts and Waite reported that she has examples of contracts from several towns. She also reported that she has access to a lot of comparative data from other towns in Western Massachusetts that would allow TSO to figure out, for example, the cost of a curbside compost system within communities of different sizes.

Amherst’s existing trash disposal was recently criticized by South Hadley Selectboard Chair Jeff Cyr for the minimal solid waste services it provides to its residents. As South Hadley is being pressured by haulers to abandon its pay-as-you-throw-system, Cyr said officials will keep an eye on surrounding communities, adding that South Hadley is fortunate to have municipal curbside pickup, unlike Amherst. “Amherst doesn’t offer anything,” Cyr said. “You’re on your own to get to your own dumpster and get your own source of getting rid of waste.”

Zero Waste Amherst provided the FAQs below. The first is a general FAQ on the bylaw and is followed by a set of answers to questions previously posed by members of the Town Council. 

Amherst Hauler Reform and Curbside Compost Pickup

General FAQ And Councilor Questions, ZWA Answers,

See links to background information about this proposal.

General FAQ

What Is the hauler proposal?
Currently, residents must either contract directly with USA Hauling and Recycling (USA) or haul their waste to the Transfer Station.  On August 15, 2022, a proposal came up before the Amherst Town Council to switch from current system of subscription hauling services to a town contract with the hauler that would include universal curbside compost pick up. The proposal includes a requirement that the compostable materials be processed and used locally and that the program be phased in, starting with 1-4 family homes and later including apartment complexes, homeowners associations and businesses. It requires a Pay As You Throw fee structure which could be by the size of your toter or by the number of bags you purchase. The proposal was referred to the Town Services and Outreach Committee to come back with a recommendation to the Council within 90 days.

Source: Town of Amherst, August 15, 2022 Town Council packet, Bylaw proposal, Memo in support, slide presentation, video of the presentation and discussion on August 15, starting at 4:09.

Who is proposing hauler reform?
Four Councilors are sponsoring the hauler reform bylaw proposal: Jennifer Taub (District 3), Shalini Bahl-Milne (District 5), Ellisha Walker (at large) and Andy Steinberg (at large). The community sponsor is Zero Waste Amherst. There is also a list of town wide endorsers below.

What has the Board of Health said about the proposal?
The Board of Health has jurisdiction over the hauler regulations in Amherst. ZWA took the proposal to the Board of Health and in January of 2022, it moved to support the proposal and to ask the Town Council and Town Manager how to move it forward. So it didn’t ask IF the proposal should be adopted. It asked HOW to put it forward. Then it sent a letter to the Town Council in June, asking what had been done as a result of their earlier request. Source: June 2022 Letter from Board of Health.

How can I support the proposal?
You can support the proposal by emailing the Town Council at TownCouncil@amherstma.gov.
Enter your comment on this form.

Why would Amherst want to change to a town contract?
Amherst is committed to being a leader in sustainability. Making the proposed changes would be better for the climate, better for our air, soil and water (especially for climate justice communities living near landfills and incinerators), and better for our pocketbooks! It would also move us toward achieving our state and local Zero Waste and Climate Action goals. 

USA Waste and Recycling has raised its rates significantly since achieving a virtual monopoly in Amherst. The town and its residents currently have no input into the kinds of services provided, no ability to promote environmentally sustainable practices, and no control over escalating costs. 

Amherst is one of only two municipalities of the 11 largest communities in Western Massachusetts that don’t yet have a town hauler contract or provide hauling services directly. Source: Department of Environmental Protection.

Why would we want to include universal curbside compostable materials pick up?
Offering this service is expected to reduce our waste stream by at least 40%. Each household would get three toters – one each for trash, recycling and compostable material. Almost half of what previously went in your trash would now go in your compost bin. Making the program universal ensures a much greater waste reduction impact. Source: City of Cambridge DPW composting program.. 

What would be included in the compostable materials?
“Compostable materials” include organic material – food scraps, food-soiled paper, compostable containers, clean wood and plants. Source: USA Recycling and Waste, Martin’s Farm.

I already put my food scraps in a backyard compost pile. Why would I want to do this?

There are many items that backyard composters won’t add to their compost. They include meat, eggs, and bread and other food that attracts animals. Also paper products, and compostable containers don’t break down in backyard compost because the temperature doesn’t get high enough. There will be plenty to put in your compost bin even if you continue to backyard compost. Source: Louisville, CO.

Could yard waste be added to the compost bin?

Yes! You could have as large as a 95 gallon compost bin that can hold your ongoing supply of weeds, sticks and leaves. Most backyard leaf piles are not aerated and therefore are creating methane back there! Source: Martin’s Farm.

Where would the compostable materials be processed?

Martin’s Farm in Greenfield has a major compost processing operation and has agreed to take Amherst’s compostable materials. Source: Martin’s Farm, ZWA interview with Adam Martin, of Martin’s Farm.

Would the compostable materials be used locally?

Yes! Martin’s Farm creates a product that can be purchased and used at farms and in gardens. Source: Martin’s Farm.

What would this change cost residents?
We won’t find out the amount of the basic fee until we ascertain exactly what the town wants to include in the contract, and awards a contract to a bidder. But residents in other towns with contracts pay on average half of what residents with subscriptions pay. 

Louisville, Colorado (population 21,000), the municipality we have been modeling, also includes compost pick up in basic service (Republic Services). It provides three sizes of toters – 35 gallon ($194/year), 65 gallon ($351/year), and 95 gallon ($508/year). 95% of residents saved money with the new system. 

Source: Louisville, CO rates. Louisville, CO article explaining program.

I use the transfer station already. Would I be included? Will it cost me more than I pay now?
Transfer Station users currently purchase an annual sticker at a cost of $125/year. On top of that, they pay $30 for each 10 official bags they use. They may pay, on average, somewhere around $230/year, including for the sticker, bags and gas to get there. We believe the new services will not cost more than what Transfer Station users are paying now. Source: Transfer Station website.

Transfer station users are a small minority of residents but some of our biggest trash reducers. We expect that  universal curbside compost pickup will be an attractive complement to their contributions –  in order to reduce our town wide trash by 40%. Implementing a town wide program is the only way to have that kind of impact.

I am one of the 1500 households of one person only, and produce very little trash. How would this benefit me?
You are currently at a huge disadvantage if you use hauler services. That’s because, no matter how little trash you generate, you still pay USA the same as larger trash generators. This proposal would incentivize trash reduction by charging based on the amount of trash you generate.

An example is that one of the sponsors, Shalini Bahl-Milne, uses a 95 gallon trash bin that is picked up every week. She pays USA $480 annually. Darcy DuMont, who uses a 35 gallon trash bin that is picked up every two weeks also pays $480/yr for trash and recycling pick up, but she also has the optional curbside pick up of compost, so Darcy’s total yearly payment to USA is $660.00. 

I’m a renter. How would this affect me?
Because planning to extend the program to apartment complexes will take longer and require input from renters, it will be phased in after 1-4 family households. Whether using dumpsters or toters, renters will need to be educated about how the program will work.  ZWA is hoping that some neighborhood compost sites can be provided pending implementation of the later phases of the program.

I live at a senior independent living complex. How would this affect me?
The Board of Health regulations will determine when each type of residence is added to the program. Some towns have provided exceptions for businesses that have an existing contract. An exception might, for example, be allowed if the business could show that it is including compost pick up.

I’m a member of a homeowners association. How would this affect me?
Homeowner’s associations are slated to be phased in at a later time and that will be decided in the Board of Health regulations.

I already have USA’s optional curbside compost pick up. How would this affect me?
You are really in luck, because under the proposal, the optional service you are paying extra for now will be included in basic service.

I use USA services but also need to use the transfer station services to recycle Hard to Recycle items, like mattresses and electronics. 
Residents need to pay $125 for a sticker in order to recycle items like mattresses and electronics, which doesn’t make sense and is a disincentive to recycle. Does this proposal solve that dilemma? ZWA would like the basic hauling fee to include a small additional amount for all residents that would provide universal membership in the transfer station. 

How would the  billing based on a “pay as you throw” system work?
Pay as you throw systems incentivize waste reduction and have been shown to reduce waste by 35%.  In the proposed program, households would pay more or less according to toter size or how many official bags they need to buy to hold their trash. If they generate more trash, they will pay more. Remember, almost half of your “trash” will now be going in your compost bin. 

​The town already has a “solid waste enterprise fund”, so that would be the most logical vehicle to use since it would allow a pay as you throw fee structure. Absorbing the contract cost in our taxes would not allow that. 

​See this example of a municipal waste bill that is added into the water and sewer bill.

Would changing to this program be worth it?
Adoption of this proposal would be of great benefit to the town and to its residents. It was endorsed by both the Board of Health and the Energy and Climate Action Committee. It has specifically been proposed in our Climate Action Adaptation and Resilience Plan and in our 2016 Solid Waste Master Plan. Staff time would be needed for start up – to set the billing program up, draft the regulations and create a Request for Proposals, but once set up, it would be smooth sailing. Start up costs and staffing can be absorbed by the town given Town Council direction to do so.

Would the town need to commit staff time to deal with resident complaints or equipment maintenance?
The town would not need to commit staff to deal with resident complaints and equipment maintenance if the contract makes the hauler responsible for those tasks.

Why not have the Town take over trash hauling services “in house”?
Many would like to move away from the national hauler system altogether. An inhouse system would provide ultimate control over our waste reduction. However, the current budget may not allow the town to take on the cost of doing so. The Town provides hauling for the schools and municipal buildings, but doesn’t have the vehicles or staff to haul for the whole town, at present. Modeled after Louisville, the proposal allows the flexibility to move to such a system if it were ever viable. Source: Louisville, CO hauler bylaw.

What groups have endorsed the proposal?

  • Amherst Board of Health
  • Amherst Energy and Climate Action Committee
  • Amherst League of Women Voters
  • Amherst Common Share Food Coop
  • Climate Action Now Western MA
  • Mothers Out Front, Amherst
  • UMass Student Farming Enterprise
  • Sunrise Amherst
  • Hitchcock Center for the Environment
  • Progressive Coalition of Amherst
  • Grow Food Amherst
  • Unitarian Universalist Society of Amherst Green Sanctuary Committee
  • Zero Waste Central Valley
  • Amherst Bilingual Studio
  • Sierra Club, MA Chapter
  • Community Action Works (Formerly Toxics Action Center)  

Do we know current prices for USA Recycling and Waste services?
No. USA provides very little transparency. It doesn’t advertise its toter sizes and costs. Anecdotally, we know that the lowest cost for pick up is $480/yr. As of 2021, the average household cost was $519.00/yr. Source: Smith College Capstone project.

What changes are coming with respect to state laws about composting?
Among its strategies for reaching its waste reduction goals, MassDEP will expand its current waste disposal bans by, on November 1, 2022:

  • Lowering the threshold on commercial organic/food waste to facilities generating more than one-half ton of these materials per week; and
  • Adding mattresses and textiles to the list of materials banned from disposal or transport for disposal in Massachusetts. Source: DEP.

What did our 2016 Solid Waste Master Plan recommend along the lines of this proposal?
Two of the recommendations in the Plan were:

  • Identify and implement cost effective methods to increase composting opportunities for residents, including curbside pickup of organics.
  • Require each hauler operating in Amherst to provide curbside pickup of organics (including discarded food, non-recyclable paper products, leaves, grass, and yard trimmings).

Source: 2016 Solid Waste Master Plan

What kind of outreach to the public was done in 2017 for the Solid Waste Master Plan proposal?
The Recycling and Refuse Management Committee conducted a public survey to get input about support for the plan. 322 residents responded to the survey. 64% of the respondents used a local hauler.

To the question: “Should residents and businesses be required to divert organics?”, 61% of respondents said yes.

To the question: “Are you in favor of instituting curbside compost pick up?”, 69% of respondents said yes.

To the question: “Will you commit to composting [organics]?”, 80% said yes.

Source: Solid Waste Master Plan, Appendix.

Councilor Questions About The Proposal Posed At 8/15/2022 Town Council Meeting

1. What should we do about the criminal penalties in the existing bylaw?  (Michele Miller)

The sponsors agree that the criminal penalties in the existing bylaw should be eliminated.

2. Town Contract: Are there enough haulers in this area to have a competitive bid process? (Ana Devlin-Gauthier)
Yes, USA and Republic both serve Amherst. (Republic picks up at some of the apartment complexes).Republic serves South Hadley. Casella and Republic both serve Agawam. Republic, Casella and USA have all served Shutesbury in the last few years. Source: ZWA interviews with officials in S. Hadley, Shutesbury and Agawam.

3. Would residents be able to opt out? (Cathy Schoen)
Residents may have reasons to opt out, like a business that has an existing contract. Businesses are the most likely to opt out. For most residents, the new contract should be attractive enough to keep them in. (For example, 190 of 6600 customers in S. Hadley opted out.) Source: ZWA interview with Chris Bouchard, DPW Director, South Hadley.

To avoid the unintended consequence of hurting the Transfer Station,  ZWA suggests that the Town could for a small additional fee, provide all households with membership in the Transfer Station. Then it would be a part of the program. It therefore wouldn’t be a choice for opting out. We believe many current Transfer Station users will opt to use the curbside program for cost and convenience. The opt out choice would be to go with a different company, which usually only businesses will request.

4. Would residents still be able to use the transfer station? (Cathy Schoen)
The Transfer Station offers three services: 1) municipal hauling and transfer, 2) resident disposal of trash, 3) recycling of hard to recycle materials, like mattresses, etc. ZWA wants all services to remain and be funded through the universal enterprise fund fee. So the answer would be yes in that case.

5. Would residents still be able to do backyard composting? (Pam Rooney)
Yes, but they would still receive a compost toter. A very small minority of residents aerate and use their backyard compost. The better option is to send it to Martin’s to process into a usable soil amendment. We can’t have the waste reduction impact we need unless everyone is included. Backyard composters will still have plenty to add to the compost bin, such as meat, eggs, dirty paper plates and towels, dirty cardboard, compostable take out containers, and yard waste. 

6. Phasing of compost program: How many homes are needed for the hauler to bid? (Cathy Schoen)
USA already only picks up from part of Amherst. Republic services some of the apartment complexes. Phase 1 of the proposal would include about 5000 single family to 4 family units in town. There is no question that the haulers will bid on that number of homes. Three national haulers have provided bids on Shutesbury hauling in recent years, which requires only 830 pick ups from households and municipal buildings. Source: Gary Bernhardt, Shutesbury Waste Reduction Coordinator.

7. Why 1-4 family homes first? (Michele Miller)
If the program needs to be phased in, it makes sense to start with the part of town where current customers use rolling toters. More challenging will be deciding how a composting program will work at businesses, condo and apartment complexes, where they currently use dumpsters, and where input from and education of users will be important to work out.  

ZWA believes that any program undertaken should have a commitment to serving the whole town. The program could conceivably provide the option for voluntary compost disposal and pick up at complexes and businesses as a temporary solution until the details of the later phase are worked out.

8. Local aspect of compost program: Will haulers be willing to take compostables to Martin’s Farm? (Mandi Jo Hanneke)
We know that USA already takes compost to Martin’s. ZWA  witnessed it when we visited. Source: ZWA field trip to Martin’s Farm. Martin’s is the closest compost processing facility to Amherst that does the type of processing we would need. Source: DEP list of facilities.

9. Will residents be able to use the compost? (Mandi Jo Hanneke)
We might want to consider that but it would add to the cost of the contract. It would be great to start our own Amherst compost operation and there are grants that would help with that. Martin’s has used such grants to purchase equipment. See these state grants available to offset the cost. Source: DEP grants.

10. Cost” Would we need additional staff to administer the new hauler contract? (Pam Rooney)
We will need part of a staff member to do the billing. For education and outreach, we plan a community volunteer effort to do much of the outreach and education. It would be great to restart the Recycling and Refuse Management Committee

Councilor Questions Posed At The Town Services and Outreach Meeting 8/18/2022

  1. How can haulers competitively bid if all of the local haulers were bought up by USA? (Dorothy Pam)
    Only the local haulers were bought out by USA Hauling and Recycling. We have a number of  national haulers that operate in the area – USA, Republic, and Casella, to name three. All three have recently provided hauling for Shutesbury through one year contracts. South Hadley has a contract with Republic. Republic also serves some Amherst apartment complexes. Source: ZWA interview with Chris Bouchard, DPW Director; ZWA interview with Gary Bernhardt, Shutesbury Solid Waste Coordinator.

2. Does USA provide curbside compostable materials pick up now? (Annika Lopes)
Yes. At an extra cost of $15/month. Source: a customer. USA does not advertise the service and thus few take advantage of it.  USA  hauls the compostable materials to Martin’s Farm in Greenfield. Source: ZWA field trip to Martin’s Farm.

3. What is the cost of the program? (Dorothy Pam)
First, we need DPW and finance staff dedicated to establishing how such a program could work in Amherst – in advance of adoption. As for the cost to the town after adoption, we can compare the Town Manager’s estimates for the cost of start up and ongoing costs of staffing to those of other towns. Under a contract, the hauler can provide much of the staffing needed for managing complaints and customer service in general, toter maintenance, enforcement and education. Assuming that staffing and cost would be included in the hauler contract, ZWA estimates the following ongoing costs to the town:

             Accounting staff (for billing)           .15 FTE.  – $15,000

             DPW, contract compliance staff      .15 FTE   – $15,000

If the program were to start in January of 2024, as proposed, the Town would need to budget $15,000 in the FY24 budget and $30,000 in the FY25 budget.

As for the cost to residents, all evidence indicates that the vast majority of residents will get more service and either pay less or break even. The DEP provides grants for toters that will cut the cost of the hauler contract and thus the cost to residents. We won’t know the cost until a contract is awarded. ZWA has been using Louisville, CO as a model of potential cost to residents.

See Louisville rates through a contract with Republic.

Councilor Questions Posed At The Town Services and Outreach meeting 2/09/2023

1. Don’t food scraps also cause methane emissions? (Dorothy Pam)

If the compost process involves aerating the soil (as done at Martin’s Farm in Greenfield), methane emissions are minimized. For every million metric tons of organic wastes that decompose, 469 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent greenhouse gases in the form of methane are released. Composting—the conversion of such waste into a useful soil amendment—reduces those emissions by more than 50 percent. This solution replaces the disposal of biodegradable urban organic waste in landfills. The practice has other benefits as well, including potential carbon biosequestration benefits from the use of compost as a soil amendment and potential savings from reducing demand for nitrogen fertilizers. Source: Composting, Project Drawdown

2. Why are Apartment Complexes phased in after single family and 2-4 family homes? (Dorothy Pam)
If the program needs to be phased in, it makes sense to start with the part of town where current customers use rolling toters. More challenging will be deciding how a composting program will work at businesses, condo and apartment complexes, where they currently use dumpsters, and where input from and education of users will be important to work out.  

ZWA believes that any program undertaken should have a commitment to serving the whole town. The program could conceivably provide the option for voluntary compost disposal and pick up at complexes and businesses as a temporary solution until the details of the later phase are worked out.

3. Will we still be able to use the Transfer Station? (Dorothy Pam)
ZWA hopes the bylaw or regulations will ultimately include town wide membership in the transfer station for a small additional fee. That way, everyone will be able to use it to drop off trash, recycling and compost, and to recycle hard-to-recycle materials. 

4. Will we be able to get Christmas Tree pick up, as in the past? (Dorothy Pam)
That would be a detail of the program that could be added in the regulations and/or in an RFP. The bylaw amendment probably won’t get into that level of detail. ZWA recommends that the TSO and the Council pass a simple, general bylaw and then let staff and the Board of Health work out the details in the context of the regulations.

5. How will this work with renters of single family homes? (Dorothy Pam)
Presumably both the town and the hauler will be providing outreach and education to residents about the program when it launches. In addition, ZWA would like to help with neighborhood outreach as the first project of the Sustainable Neighborhood program. Rented single family homes would be top on the list for receiving education. In addition, ZWA is organizing Sustainable Neighborhood Teams to help the Town with outreach once the program is adopted.

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