Spring/Fall Cleanup: Variations to A Popular Municipal Service
(from Maine Townsman, April 1998)
By Jo Josephson, Staff Writer

The big stuff. The bulky stuff. The hazardous stuff. Like a refrigerator or air conditioner that has given up the ghost. Or, an old couch that nobody wants. Or, a tire run smooth. Or, rusting cans of oil-based paint and pesticide. It used to be that when residents wanted to get rid of any or all of the above, they’d haul it off to the dump to be burned and/or buried

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But no more. Now, with curbside pickup and discreet packets of trash and recyclables lining the roads, many cities and towns have instituted annual or bi-annual "cleanups" to deal with the big bulky and sometimes "bad" stuff that the incinerators and the remaining landfills won’t take. Just how they are conducting their cleanups and what they have learned to do and not do is the subject of this article.

FREEPORT: MOVING TOWARD A BI-ANNUAL CLEANUP

In 1994, Cynthia Strout, solid waste manager for Freeport (pop. 7,300), asked the town council for $15,000 to conduct the town’s first town-wide cleanup of bulky waste. It had been more than a decade since the town had closed its landfill and become a member of Regional Waste Systems. Regular household waste and recyclables and wood waste were being disposed of regularly. But there was no simple system for getting rid of the couches and fridges and the other so-called bulky waste that was piling up and occasionally finding its way to roadside ditches. The haulers that residents had contracted with for their regular trash were reluctant to pick up the bulky waste and the residents weren’t keen on driving it 27 miles to the RWS facility and paying $10 to $15 a load to dispose of it.

As a result, when not picking up couches from roadside ditches, Strout found herself listening to residents asking for help in getting rid of the stuff in a more civilized manner. For Strout, it was never a question of hiring someone to pick up the stuff curbside. People need to take responsibility for their waste, is her mantra. And so, with council backing, she designed a cleanup program that would require residents to drop off their bulky waste at the town’s recycling facility. She then "negotiated" for the use of 16 roll-off containers to be delivered to the facility and sent out the word that residents could drop off their stuff during the month of October for free.

By all standards, the cleanup was a success. In fact it was too successful. But what do you expect, with the first organized cleanup in over a decade; no limits imposed; a waiver on the usual fee for brush and building materials; and no stickers to identify local residents? It was so successful that Strout went over budget by $4,000. (She attributes that to the fact that the cleanup attracted truck loads of tires, some 20,000 tires!)

It would be an understatement to say that stricter controls were set in place the next year, reducing the cost to $8,000 and the time span to two weeks.. There were stickers identifying local vehicles and there was a fee for tires. But perhaps most significant in bringing down the volume, says Strout, was the fact that bulky waste that had been accumulating for years had finally been disposed of - the tidal wave had passed.

By year three, the town began limiting each household to two truck loads; at the same time it expanded the cleanup to twice a year - one week in June and one in October. And to keep track of it all, after depositing the first load, residents were now given a "token" for their second free load. The town also began compacting the bulky goods so that more could be carried in each roll-off. And the total cost? It has plateaued at $7,000 a year, reports Strout.

Helping keep the lid on it all, reports Strout, is the fact that the Freeport’s tipping fee at RWS now includes one tire per week per household. Also helping to keep the lid on it all is the establishment of a year-round "swap shop" at the town’s recycling facility.

With that overview of the development of Freeport’s bi-annual cleanup, this article now looks at how a number of other cities and towns across the state conduct their bulky waste cleanups.

SPRING AND/OR FALL

Unlike Freeport, which has gravitated to a biannual cleanup program, Mount Desert (pop.2,032) conducts its week-long cleanup program only once a year, during the spring. Unlike Freeport which conducts a drop-off program, Mount Desert uses town trucks and personnel; it also uses high school students on spring vacation, who are paid $5.50 an hour. Also limiting their cleanup programs to the spring are Lewiston (pop. 37,373), Augusta (pop. 20,384), Pittsfield (pop. 4,395) and Brunswick (pop. 20,560).

Lewiston’s Public Works Superintendent Paul Boudreau says spring is a good time for the city because the "cherry pickers" it rents to reduce the wear and tear on his men are idle in spring. Idleness means the prices are good, says Boudreau, who notes that in his area of the state the rental price is about $75 an hour. Boudreau also says spring is a better time because his men are too busy in the fall. It should be noted that during the rest of the year, Lewiston contracts out its curbside refuse pick-up to the private sector.

At least one town, Gouldsboro (pop. 2,065), using the contractor who picks up town trash throughout the year, conducts its annual cleanup in the early fall. Town Manager Larry Barnes says the fall date is probably an outgrowth of the town’s traditional autumn fireman’s yard sale that had to be discontinued because there was too much stuff to be gotten rid of. Barnes notes that the fall date enables some of the summer residents to take part in the cleanup.

But once a year is not enough in the eyes of some municipalities. In addition to Freeport, North Yarmouth (pop. 2701) and Temple (pop. 586) conduct their cleanups in the spring and the fall. Freeport’s drop-off program is a week long. North Yarmouth’s drop-off lasts a weekend. Temple’s curbside pickup lasts one day.

FREE OR FEE

North Yarmouth, Freeport, and Brunswick conduct a no-fee, drop-off program, while Lewiston, Pittsfield, Mount Desert, and Gouldsboro conduct a no-fee curbside program. Only two municipalities contacted for this article - Augusta and Temple - charge a fee. Both conduct a curbside cleanup program.

Augusta’s pickup didn’t always cost. "It was free for the first 19 years, then about eight to ten years ago we started charging," reports Augusta Public Works Director John Charest. When it was free, it was conducted twice a year, in the spring and the fall, but it got to the point that it was costing the city between $75,000 and $100,000 for two weeks of picking up the bulky waste. As a result, the city council considered dropping the pickup service entirely, according to Charest.

While the pickup service wasn’t eliminated, the free service was. Transformed into a system of stickers that at first cost $10 and now $20 each, the cleanup occurs during a three-week period every spring. Trucks come round each week and pick up different items. The first week it is white goods, the next it is wood debris and furniture; the third it is building debris, rugs and mattresses. If you want curbside pickup all three weeks, you purchase three stickers for a total cost of $60. Charest estimates that with the new system in place only 75 to 100 of the 8,000 households in Augusta are making use of the service.

But the pickup service is not the only option for Augusta residents. There are at least two others. For $15 you can buy a permit that admits you to the city’s landfill for two years, where you then pay a by-the-pound tipping fee. But you need not purchase a permit, if you want to go to the landfill only three times a year, the city will give you a three-trip pass into the landfill for free. Of course you will still pay the tipping fee.

In Temple, where the town’s contracted rubbish hauler is used for one day in the spring and the fall to pick up bulky items, there is a charge, for most, but not everything. Selectmen say the fees help to cover the cost of the pickup as well as disposal and note that it is the only time of year residents have to pay out of pocket for trash disposal.

Tires cost from $1 (cars) to $100 (heavy equipment).; T.V sets, stereos, stuffed chairs, mattresses, box springs, washer, dryers, stoves and dishwasher cost $5; while couches, freezers, air conditioners and refrigerators (with their doors off) cost $10. Selectmen ride with the hauler and collect the money or record the items for future billing. Selectman George Andrews says any other " manageable" items like wood and broken furniture are picked up for free.

PICK-UP OR DROP OFF

As noted above, Augusta, Lewiston, Pittsfield, Mount Desert, Gouldsboro, and Temple provide a curbside pickup service, while Freeport, North Yarmouth and Brunswick provide a drop-off program.

Brunswick used to provide a free pickup program using the public works department. But in 1990, after acknowledging that it was taking the town crew up to six weeks to conduct the program, it switched to a free week-long, drop-off program. During the rest of the year, residents can drop off their bulky waste for a fee at the town’s landfill, but during one week in the spring, the drop-off is free. It came as no surprise to the TOWNSMAN when Brunswick Solid Waste Director Mike Claus reported that more is collected during the one-week than during the rest of the year.

Limits

Both the pickup and drop-off programs covered in this article set some sort of limits, be it amounts or types of materials.

Freeport’s drop-off program limits residents to two free drop-offs; bring in your first load and the town will give you a token for your second load. While there is no specific limit to the amount picked up in Mount Desert, Deputy Clerk Joelle Nolan says the guidelines sent to every resident notes that the town "reserves the right to limit quantities."

But Mount Desert’s guidelines are quite specific when it comes to how to prepare the materials for pickup. Wood may not be greater than six inches thick; bagged leaves and grass must be free of twigs and gravel as it is taken to a local farm for composting. Materials must be tied in bundles no longer than four feet in length. And the bundles and containers must be able to be handled by one person. The town does not collect vehicle or marine batteries, boats or motor vehicles, or any hazardous materials.

As noted above, Augusta has a system of stickers. It is a system with definite limits. For example, brush is limited to four cubic yards - no obvious lot clearings or stumps. Appliances are limited to two; furniture is limited to three items. Tires and hazardous wastes are not acceptable; nor are items that two men can not reasonably load into the truck.

Scheduling

As to be expected, pickup programs are intensely focused on scheduling, be it in starting up their program or in maintaining them. In Pittsfield, where there are four voting districts, the town phased in its spring pickup program for its 1,176 households over a period of four years, adding an additional district (neighborhood) each year. "We would have been swamped if we had tried to do the whole town the first year," says Pittsfield Town Manager Dwight Dogherty.

Now that Pittsfield’s week-long program is in place, residents are asked to segregate their bulky waste into three discreet piles: tires, metal goods, wood waste. The town makes several passes, picking up one group of items with each pass. "Planning is the big thing; you want to design your routes so that you don’t have to double back," advises Dogherty, but he adds, don’t be afraid to go back to a house if they haven’t gotten their stuff out to the curb to meet your schedule. To alert residents, the town puts an ad in a free weekly newspaper.

Like Pittsfield, Lewiston asks its residents to segregate their materials, but unlike Pittsfield, it picks it all up on the same pass. It wasn’t always that way. Solid Waste Manager Sid Hazelton says in the past the town asked residents to put something different out every day and the town would pick it up that day. "It didn’t work because, people have to go to work during the week," reports Hazelton. So now everybody puts everything out at the beginning of their appointed week. Residents are assigned to one of two weeks depending on their regular trash pickup day and the town picks it up in one fell swoop.

Like Pittsfield and Lewiston, Mount Desert asks its residents to separate their waste. Collection coincides with the residents regular trash pickup day. (There are four villages that make up Mount Desert). And as such there is an elaborate scheduling. And while there is only one pass per residence, there are three trucks. One picks up regular trash and non-wood building materials; another picks up tires (a maximum of four) without rims as well as metal appliances; and a third truck collects reasonable amounts of burnable wood.

Mechanization

Mechanization over muscle power is the mantra of many a municipality that offers a bulky waste curbside cleanup program. As noted above, Lewiston rents a "cherry picker" every year to help with the loading. It also conducts a back safety seminar prior to the event. "We used to have a lot of back injuries in the past," says Lewiston’s Bill Stretten, "but now we are injury-free because we have learned other ways than using our backs for loading materials and when we do use our backs we lift properly." And this year, for the first time, the highway crew will meet with a chiropractor as well, reports Stretten, adding that he regularly goes out in the field to see if the crew is practicing what they have been taught.

Why Drop-off

As noted above, of the municipalities contacted for this article, only Freeport, North Yarmouth and Brunswick have a drop-off cleanup program. Freeport’s Cynthia Strout feels strongly about asking residents to take responsibility for this and besides, she says, it makes it a lot cheaper for the town.

When asked about the elderly, Strout says, she can always find someone in town to help them out. North Yarmouth Town Manager Scott Seaver reports that there are church groups in town that use the event as a fund raiser. For a donation they will pick up your bulky waste and haul it to the town’s recycling facility during the week-end cleanup that occurs twice a year. "We see a lot of people hauling for their neighborhoods," reports Seaver, who coordinates the drop off with his board of selectmen, three-person public works crew, and a number of volunteers who have been recruited to help direct traffic to the roll-offs that have been rented for the occasion.

Like scheduling for the curbside pickup, Seaver says it is important to plan your traffic flow. "That’s where the use of volunteers comes in, says Seaver, noting that the first year there were 20 to 30 cars waiting in line; now they have seven to eight containers being filled at a time and a smoother flow of traffic.


SOME ADVICE ON CLEANUP (sidebar)

If you are just starting out, expect more than you can handle. With a drop-off program, order two to three times more roll-off containers than you think you will need. Know that pickup will always take longer than you think, especially if it is free.

Once you start the program, keep it up; don’t even consider skipping a year. Don’t let the stockpiles grow, even if it means conducting the cleanup twice a year.

Provide year-round alternatives to the annual cleanup, like year-round swap shops or regional demolition debris landfills or a fee-based drop-off program.

It’s important to develop and distribute printed guidelines, so people know what is and is not acceptable; what has a fee tied to it and what does not; and if and how they must segregate their materials.

If you are going to charge, know that things will wind up in ditches.

Avoid muscle power; mechanize your pickups; move heavy items with bucket loaders and grapplers. Be sure to hold a refresher workshop on proper lifting. A rule of thumb in some towns: If one person can’t handle it, we don’t take it.

As with all drop-off programs, it is important to be able to identify your residents, especially if several towns use your drop-off (transfer station) site. Color-coded stickers work. With curbside pickup, be on the lookout for non-residents piggybacking onto the program.

Expect scavenging for metals if you have curbside pickup. Even if the municipality prohibits it, the ordinance will probably be difficult to enforce. So it’s better to have residents separate the items so they don’t make a shamble of the piles. This month refrigerators and other appliances are getting $47 a ton.

Drop-off cleanup programs are a good way to get people started in recycling. It enables you to have a one-on-one encounter with your residents and further educate them about the town’s recycling program.

Have everything put out at once in separate piles for curbside pickup, even though you won’t pick it all up at once. Otherwise you will create a lot of confusion. Keep it simple.

If you are collecting furniture, flatten it with a bucket loader to improve efficient use of your roll-off containers.

Don’t be reluctant to limit loads and items.

Regional collections of household hazardous waste make economical sense.



WHAT TO DO WITH THE HAZARDOUS STUFF (sidebar)

Household hazardous waste. It’s in the bags in the garden shed; in the bottles under the kitchen sink; in the gallon cans in the basement. Households generally contain three to ten gallons of the stuff, according to the literature. Some of the hazardous materials are obvious, like old gasoline and paint thinner and pesticides; but many are not, like batteries, paints and cleaners. The Maine Department of Environmental Protection defines hazardous materials as:

flammable- can catch fire easily.

reactive - can react or explode.

corrosive - can corrode containers and other materials.

toxic - can poison humans, plants and other animals.

Most towns contacted for this article note they don’t accept household hazardous wastes during their annual cleanup. So how is a person to dispose of it, safely? In researching this article, the TOWNSMAN learned of two regional groups that have begun to assist municipalities in disposing of their household hazardous waste.

Western Maine

The Androscoggin Valley Council of Governments (AVCOG) and the City of Lewiston have been conducting what is known as the "Household Hazardous Waste Collection Event" for the past four years. The one-day, drop-off program, held annually on the last Saturday in September at the Lewiston Public Works yard, is free to residents of Lewiston, Auburn and Lisbon. For a fee, residents in other towns in Androscoggin, Franklin and Oxford counties may participate; they need not be members of AVCOG.

According to Environmental Planner Ken Blonder, who heads up the program for AVCOG, last year 18 towns in the region participated in the event. In addition to Lewiston, Auburn, and Lisbon, they included Bethel, Carrabassett Valley, Carthage, Fryeburg, Jay, Mechanic Falls, Rangeley, Wilton, Woodstock, and the Northern Oxford Regional Solid Waste Association towns of Byron, Dixfield, Mexico, Peru, Roxbury and Rumford.

Blonder says that towns should expect that about two to three percent of their population will participate in the program in any given year. He says most towns cover the fee for their residents and at $21 to dispose of five gallons of household hazardous waste, they should expect to spend anywhere from $500 to $1,000 a year.

The wastes are dropped off in Lewiston by individuals or their towns by appointment only. During last year’s program, under contract with a Massachusetts firm, AVCOG collected more than four thousand gallons of hazardous waste.

For information, contact Blonder at 783-9186.

Mount Desert Island

The Mount Desert Island League of Towns sponsored its first "Household Hazardous Waste Collection Day" back in the fall of 1996; they plan to hold the next one a couple of years from now. Open to residents in the towns of Bar Harbor, Mount Desert, Southwest Harbor, Tremont, Lamoine and Cranberry Isle, the half-day drop-off was held at the centrally-located Somesville Fire Station under the supervision of low bidder Clean Harbors at a cost of $10,000. A total of 8,500 gallons of household hazardous waste was collected. Participating towns shared in the cost based on their year-round population: Mount Desert ($3,750), Bar Harbor ($3,250), Southwest Harbor ($1,750), Tremont ($750), (Cranberry Isle ($250), and Acadia National Park ($250)

Like AVCOG’s collection, the League of Towns required pre-registration. Prospective participants registered with their respective towns. For the next go-round, organizers say they would tighten the registration process by insisting that each registrant identify what they will be bringing to the disposal site and that they would be given "permits" to be brought to the disposal site.

Organizers note that ten companies were invited to bid on the project; two bids were received by the deadline. The low bidder asked for a $500 set up fee and charged $39 per ten gallons of waste; $24 for five gallons; and a minimum total bill of $5,500. Acceptable wastes were limited to pesticides, herbicides, waste oil, oil-based paints, lacquers, acids, stains, model cement, thinners, household cleaning materials and alkaline detergents. No fire extinguishers or explosives or smoke alarms were accepted.