Downtown View:Questions You’ve Wanted Answered

By Karen Cord Taylor

The trash is picked up early on trash days. But the recycling trucks come by later—sometimes much later. This problem occurs most frequently in the North End and South End and on Beacon Hill among the downtown neighborhoods. But all downtown neighborhoods, obsessed with cleanliness, have tried to get bags of every kind off the sidewalks as early as possible. Why are the pick-ups so late, and what can be done to get them picked up earlier?

In 2013 after a clamor from the downtown neighborhoods, the city reduced the number of trash pickup days in several neighborhoods and added a recycling pickup day. This has increased Boston’s recycling amount by 17 percent, said Rob DeRosa, the city’s superintendent of waste reduction. It has also made the city cleaner.

“We can’t get it all done at once,” he said about the extended pick-up time. These trucks serve 60,000 residences every trash day. Citywide, Boston generates 200,000 tons of trash and 37,000 tons of recycling annually. More trucks are deployed for trash than recycling.

“It’s our goal to have the trucks finished by 1 p.m.,” he said. But sometimes it stretches into the late afternoon—unacceptable in residents’ minds. DeRosa outlines problems the trucks encounter, such as long lines at the recycling plant or rerouting because of street construction, which is more common in summer.

 This past fall there was one Monday when the recycling was not picked up until after 6 p.m. DeRosa said a cascade of problems beginning with a larger number of operators who called in sick and some equipment problems caused that delay, but it was an anomaly.

The city pays $5 a ton for recycling but $65 a ton for trash disposal, so it is in the interest of everyone’s pocketbook to recycle.

The good news: Boston’s trash does not go into landfills. Instead it is burned in the waste-to-energy plant in Saugus. Recyclables go to the Casella facility in Charlestown. And, said DeRosa, complaints about trash left behind or spilled have declined considerably. Furthermore, maybe because of that awful Monday and the pressure the city may have put on the hauling companies, recycle pick-up time seems to have improved over the last couple of months. We’ll see how things go.

If you voted early, and 47,909 or 11.5 percent of those registered in the city of Boston did so, you probably remarked at the efficiency of the process—at least until you got to the last stage, in which you had to insert your ballot into the same kind of envelope used for absentee ballots. Why not just insert your ballot into a machine at the time you voted? Isn’t it a pain to have to open all those envelopes—many more than would be generated by absentee voters?

It turns out that the process was as efficient as it could be, given the election laws, according to Dion Irish, Boston’s election commissioner.

“The law allows ballots to be scanned only on election day; that is why we did not have machines at the early voting locations,” he said in an email. “The envelopes were needed to meet the requirement of checking voters off the list again on election day at their respective precincts before putting their ballots through the machine.”

So while you could vote early, you couldn’t vote often here in Boston, where 85 percent voted for Hillary.

Like absentee ballots, early voting ballots are counted at the precinct that the early voter is registered to vote in. It takes 60 to 90 seconds to open the envelope, unfold the ballot and insert it into the machine, according to Irish. Many precincts were able to process their early voting ballots throughout the day and were able to provide a final tally shortly after the 8 p.m. closing of the polls. A few precincts had lines throughout the day and hundreds of early voting ballots, so they were not able to process all ballots until a few hours after 8 p.m. Six people were then sent to three precincts to assist with processing early voting ballots.

There are currently 415,536 registered voters in Boston, the highest number in the city in more than 30 years. Prior to the 2012 presidential election, there were 387,142 voters registered in Boston.

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