City Negotiating Trash & Recycling Contract in Topsy Turvy Solid Waste Market

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Photo by Watertown DPW Curbside composting toters, like the one on the left, have been added to the Watertown trash and recycling program.

The economics of trash and recycling has been a bit of a rollercoaster ride in recent years, which means the City of Watertown’s new waste disposal contract will not be as immune to price changes, and will have to pay contractors to take the recycling, rather than being paid for the products.

The City Council voted to allow City Manager George Proakis to negotiate a five year contract with Republic Services, which deals with trash and recycling for most homes in Watertown and runs the Recycling Center. Approval from the Council is needed for any contract longer than three years.

The City is not in as favorable a position in negotiating the solid waste contract compared to prior years, Proakis said.

“Overall, trash and recycling costs are higher, they are going higher, and I don’t particularly see that trend changing,” Proakis said.

In the past, the City could lock in rates, regardless of increases in costs of processing, fuel or other factors, he said, but now the contractors are tying prices to the Consumer Price Index. Adjustments would be made on an annual basis.

“We are seeking to maintain the recycling and trash services that we have,” Proakis said. “We are looking to add additional compost bins and compost opportunities for households not doing it now, because diverting that compost out of the trash system is reducing our overall tonnage and saving us some money.”

In the first year of the five-year contract Watertown would be paying $2.98 million for hauling of recycling and trash to and from a facility for either incineration or disposal in a landfill, said Public Works Superintendent Greg St. Louis. The contract would start $50,000 higher in the first year if the City went with a three year contract, he added, and the Consumer Price Index adjustments would be made using that number.

The contract also includes a separate $400,000 recycling passthrough fee. This new charge is part of the changing economics of recycling, St. Louis said.

“What used to happen is recycling was included in the overall hauling rate. That’s no longer the case based on what’s going on in the market and things that have happened overseas. So that is now a passthrough cost,” he said. “It has gone from companies paying us for our recycling, to the recycling industry requiring $60 a ton for disposal of recycling, to now potentially, we are budgeting $125 a ton just to process the recycling compared to an $80 a ton trash rate.”

The proposal also includes $120,000 to run the Watertown Recycling Center on Stanley Street. In addition, the City will pay $425 per truck load, or haul, of metal, single stream recycling, or yard waste, and $950 per haul for hard plastic.

In an effort to fit more into each truckload of cardboard, the DPW is looking at using a compactor at the Recycling Center. That would cost $450 a month to rent, and $425 per haul of cardboard.

In 2022, the Recycling Center added a third day of operation each week, adding Tuesdays to Fridays and Saturdays. Employees of Republic Services operate the Recycling Center. The cost for three days in the new contract is $120,000, but the contract allows the City to take over operation of the Recycling Center. St. Louis said if the Recycling Center is open more days, there may be savings to have a City employee run the facility, and the DPW could explore having it open as often as seven days a week.

St. Louis said he hopes the curbside composting program with Black Earth will continue to expand. The program started in 2022 with 1,500 households participating. This year they added additional residents. The estimate is that 20 pounds of waste is removed from trash per household per week, St. Louis said.

Another effort to remove items from the trash pickup is requiring residents to pay for removal of mattresses.

“It’s only been about six months,” St. Louis said. “It seems like a silly thing but a couple hundred mattresses a year starts to add up to something.” 

8 thoughts on “City Negotiating Trash & Recycling Contract in Topsy Turvy Solid Waste Market

  1. The Black Earth composting option is just great. My one person household is down to 1 brown paper bag a week or less. It is easy and so worth it!

    Especially with recycling costs rising, getting this part of the trash out of the stream helps everyone. Please consider it if you are not doing it yet!

  2. The recycling center should have a free section where people can bring items that they don’t need but others could still use. This could include lamps, chairs, electronics etc.
    It should be like a large shed that you would walk threw from one end out the other. I for one would volunteer a 1/2 or perhaps even a whole day to make it happen.

    • there is no extra space at the center, the biggest generator of recycle is cardboard, there’s like 4 rolloffs for this. thank you amazon.

    • Great idea David. Some communities that do not have town-wide trash pick-up do this. There are treasures to be found and fun to had as folks scan for freebies. Buy Nothing in Watertown tries to fill some of this recycling gap. Our problem, for so many issues, always involves space.

      I also have a question/concern about the Black Compost composting program. Many communities give compost participants a voucher for a free bag of Black Compost which can be used at any participating nursery such as Wagon Wheel in Lexington or NE Nurseries in Bedford. Yet in Watertown residents had to bring a container (what size?) for their “free compost” and wait in line at a site that is very constricted to pick up their compost on a specific day. Could the city please explain why we are not part of the voucher program which can bring additional business to local businesses? Given the hassle, we simply went to Wagon Wheel (a terrific local business on Waltham Street in Lexington just across the line that is worthy of your support), bought ten (10) bags given what we could fit in our car, some plants and groceries. The first question as I checked out was “Do you have a Black Compost voucher?” “No, while Watertown participates in the program we do not receive a voucher.” FYI, I called Black Compost and asked why Watertown participants do not receive a voucher for a free bag (1 cu. ft.). No one at Black Compost could answer my question. Can anyone at the DPW or anyone involved with the recycling initiatives? Another missed opportunity in my opinion.

  3. The sign outside the recycling center needs to be amended. It still does not have the Tuesday information on it. Not having the complete information on the sign may confuse people who are not regular visitors to the center. Knowing that it is open that extra day may help to reduce the backups that happen frequently on Saturdays.

  4. Is this going to be the City excuse for raising our property tax. Home owners can not take another raise, especially since the interest rates have climbed so high. I was paying 2.25% on a home equity loan and today it is up to 8.25%. That is a big jump in less than a year. If property taxes go up, I am not sure how I can pay for it.

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