2016-02-11 / Front Page

Bulky Waste Redux

By Barry Bridges

With mattresses, furniture, and appliances often littering the sidewalks of Newport, city councilors are giving a second look at the residential bulky waste disposal program that has been in place for about 15 months.

A five-year solid waste and recycling contract with Waste Management, Inc., was signed and took effect in 2014. In addition to introducing city-owned trash carts that were designed to streamline collection procedures and reduce landfill tonnage, the agreement established a sticker-based “pay-as you-throw” protocol for bulky pieces that are too large for the containers.

But under a resolution brought forth by Second Ward Councilor Lynn Ceglie at the council’s meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 10, the city administration will be evaluating the costs and benefits of the bulky waste setup, including the possibility of re-instituting free and more routine collection.

“I have heard from a lot of residents, and I’ve spent a lot of time on this,” Ceglie told Newport This Week. “There’s really been a problem with items left on the streets and sidewalks, although I’m not sure if it’s because of the policy itself or a lack of communication on the new procedures. But we’ve got to do something.”

Under the current system, stickers are purchased at City Hall, with the cost depending on the size of what is being discarded. Most bulky materials require one $15 sticker, but some items such as air conditioners and sofas require two. At the top of the scale, larger televisions and hot tubs require an outlay of $60.

Residents then call Waste Management to schedule a pickup on the first or third Thursday of each month. Items are placed on the curb with the appropriate stickers attached. An ordinance prohibits trash from being on the sidewalks for more than 24 hours prior to collection.

The resolution acknowledged that overall the new contract has been successful in increasing Newport’s recycling rate from 23 percent to 30 percent, thereby reducing amounts of refuse sent to the state’s landfill and saving on tipping fees. “However, problems associated with the new bulky-waste component of the program have been observed, particularly with respect to improper disposal of bulky items (e.g., mattresses, furniture and appliances) on city sidewalks, streets and in remote areas in violation of the [24-hour] ordinance,” the measure reads.

It further states, “It appears that some of the problems … are a consequence of the failure of some residents to be aware of the procedures, as well as the complexity of the process involving purchase of stickers and scheduling of the bulky-waste collection.”

Ceglie described various factors that contribute to the situation, such as residents who relocate and leave their possessions behind, as well as tenants who may not receive relevant mailings that go to property owners instead.

Perhaps indicating the prevalence of the trash troubles, five councilors signed on as sponsors of Ceglie’s resolution. The remaining councilor, Naomi Neville, joined with her colleagues in the unanimous vote that directed the city manager and his staff to evaluate the bulky waste program, with a return to free service as one possible option. Whether information on the change in procedures has been optimally disseminated to the public will also be assessed.

The recent issues were not necessarily unanticipated. Third Ward Councilor Kathryn Leonard, who cast the only dissenting vote when the trash agreement was approved in April of 2014, objected at the time to the provisions in the agreement concerning bulky waste disposal.

“I don’t think when you throw something out, like a chair or a table, that you should have to pay 20 bucks,” she said from the dais then. “I will not vote to support a pay-as-you-throw system.” She predicted that one result of the fee structure would be that residents simply abandon their unwanted items on the street.

As far as how to proceed now, Ceglie, who was elected to the council after the contract was finalized, said, “We need to look at the policy and the cost of various alternatives, but we also need to look at whether everything has been properly communicated.

“The administration will make a recommendation on the best way to go,” she continued, “but property owners need to know we are taking the matter seriously and are trying to resolve it.”

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