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Report: State College Trash-Collection Proposal Could Help Prevent Rate Increases

on September 18, 2011 10:02 AM

A proposal to rework residential trash collection in State College borough could prevent any rate increases probably through 2015, borough public-works Director Mark Whitfield said Friday.

He said the proposed system, to include new, automated trucks and expanded organic-waste collection, would dramatically improve efficiency. Collection crews could collect refuse from 1,100 to 1,200 homes a day -- up from their current rate of 400 to 500 homes a day, Whitfield told the Borough Council.

But the core question underlying the administration-developed proposal, he said, is whether the borough community wants to expand organic-waste collection.

"This is just another means of recycling," Whitfield said of organic-waste collection, which diverts matter from the landfill.

Reducing that waste stream -- that is, the volume of landfill-bound refuse from the borough -- is a municipal priority established earlier by council members.

Back in January 2010, the borough started a pilot program for organic-waste collection. About 550 households and about a dozen commercial customers have participated, separating out their organic waste -- largely fruit and vegetable scraps, along with lawn and garden waste -- into distinct brown bins for weekly collection runs.

The participating residents retain more-conventional garbage cans for other collection of other refuse -- that is, non-organic refuse -- and the familiar red tubs for collection of conventional recyclables: glass, metal, plastics and so on.

So far, according to the borough, the organics-collection pilot program has diverted 240 tons of organic waste from the landfill.

Growing the effort into a borough-wide endeavor under the new proposal would involve $606,000 in one-time start-up expenses, though a state grant may cover as much as $250,000 of that, according to a borough presentation. The change is projected to save the borough $109,000 a year through lighter tipping fees at the landfill, reduced fuel expenses and reduced labor needs.

At the council work session on Friday, Whitfield went into greater detail about the proposal. Among its nuances:

  • Customers would not be required to separate out their organic refuse out. But those who do so would be given a specialized brown bin for that purpose. It could hold not only vegetable and fruit matter from the kitchen, but lawn and garden refuse, as well -- just as in the pilot program. All the organic matter would be hauled to the borough's composting facility, in Patton Township, which would be expanded to handle the increased volume.
  • All borough residents would receive new refuse-collection cans for non-organic, non-recyclable waste. Those would be designed for trash collection by new, automated, natural-gas powered trucks. Using a mechanical arm, they can collect trash at a rate of one home every seven seconds. The borough's current approach -- which is more labor-intensive -- requires about 25 seconds per house.
  • The new trucks also would collect organic waste. The designated organic-refuse containers, also provided by the borough, would be emptied in the new, automated process.
  • All in all, the borough right now uses three trucks working four days a week to collect refuse -- including household garbage and yard scraps -- from customers. Under the new approach, that would be cut to two trucks working three days a week.
  • No layoffs are planned under the proposal. Some refuse workers would be reassigned to other duties, including at the expanded composting facility. Whitfield said some other positions would be eliminated through attrition over time.

"The goal here is to keep as much (waste) out of those (conventional garbage cans) as we can," Whitfield said.

If Borough Council members agree to advance the proposal, the plan likely would take effect sometime in 2012. It would be incorporated as part of the borough's 2012 budget, which council members are scheduled to finalize in December.

A public hearing on the matter is scheduled as part of the Oct. 3 Borough Council meeting. It'll begin at 7:30 p.m. in the State College Municipal Building, 243 S. Allen St.

Earlier that day, the borough will host an open house to introduce the community to the proposal more thoroughly. Details about that open house will be released closer to the date.

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