By Joyce M. Miles
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — The City of Lockport realized savings of nearly a half-million dollars by privatizing residential refuse collection, according to newly released figures.
Citywide, the net cost to collect and dispose of residents’ refuse and recyclables last year was $1.06 million. Collection is by Modern Disposal Service, which landed a five-year contract with the city effective in October 2011.
In 2011, when city crews picked up trash — and curbside recycling was limited to paper/cardboard for most of the year — the total cost of collecting and landfilling waste was nearly $1.7 million.
After accounting for the annual payment on its five-year debt to acquire variable-size refuse and recycling carts for all households, the city corporation saved $474,000 by getting out of the property tax-financed garbage collection business, according to Dawn Timm, the Niagara County environmental coordinator who drew up the city’s privatization blueprint.
With privatization, households and participating businesses are paying annual fees for waste collection and disposal, based on how much they trash versus recycle. The annual fee increases with the size and number of refuse carts in use, while recycling is unlimited.
According to figures supplied by Modern Disposal, the city had a waste “diversion” rate of 21 percent last year. That means the households and businesses that it services recycled 21 percent of their waste collectively.
Modern services most of Niagara County and some Erie County municipalities. According to Katy Duggan, the company’s sustainability coordinator and educator, Lockport is second only to Amherst in recycling rates among all customers.
Considering the fact that Lockport residents have only 15 months of experience with “single stream” curbside recycling (all types of materials go into the cart, no separation required), she said the city’s quick rise to No. 2 is “impressive.”
Some credit has to go to the carts, Duggan added. Modern has 14 customers using or switching over to 64-gallon containers from the old 18-gallon box-like tote, and “we’ve definitely seen an uptick in recycling rates in the communities that made the switch,” she said.
The city cut recycling revenue-sharing deals with Modern and Regional Computer Recycling & Recovery, the company that takes residents’ electronic waste. In 2012, the refuse fund took in $17,400 from those deals.
The lion’s share, $10,000 from Modern, was already applied to offset households’ annual user fees, which are locked in through 2014, according to City Clerk Richelle Pasceri.
The refuse fund also took in $4,700 from the sale of “excess” trash tags. When households have more garbage than they can fit in their refuse carts, or more than one bulk item to dispose of per month, they purchase $2 bag tags or $10 bulk item tags.
The city exceeded projected first-year savings from privatizing refuse collection by $44,000, Pasceri noted. The savings is not theoretical, she added, it’s a real sum that’s not being raised from property taxes.
“Variable-cart did everything we hoped it would: It got refuse costs off taxpayers’ backs, encouraged recycling, reduced landfilling ... ,” she said. “The proof is in the pudding.”