The City Council’s Committee on City Services and Innovation Technology held a special hearing on Tuesday, April 11, at City Hall to discuss a pair of ordinances that address two prevalent and inextricably linked issues – trash contacts and procedures in the City of Boston, along with pest control citywide.
The first ordinance (Docket #0443) that focused on trash contracts and procedures was sponsored by City Councilor Kenzie Bok, who chaired the hearing, along with Councilors Ruthzee Louijeune and Councilor Michael Flaherty. The second ordinance (Docket #0144) calling for a hearing on pest control was sponsored by City Council President Ed Flynn and Councilors Liz Breadon and Gabriela Coletta. (A third ordinance [Docket #0611] requested the acceptance and expenditure of a $100,000 grant for the Recycling Dividend Program, awarded by the MA Environmental Protection Division and to be administered by the Public Works Department.)
The city entered into a five-year, $28 million contract for trash and recyclables pickup with East Boston-based Capitol Waste Services on July 1, 2019, the terms of which changed the trash pickup time to 6 a.m. from 7 a.m.
Dennis Roache, assistant superintendent of waste reduction for Boston Public Works and a panelist at the hearing, said the current contract will end on June 30, 2024, with the new one to start on July 1 of next year, which is expected to go out to bid this October or November.
The new contract would reconsider groupings of neighborhoods designed to make the job easier to bid on for trash contractors, said Roache, who added that some of these grouping date back 10 to 15 years “so it might be time to revisit them.”
Said Roache: “The way we look at contracts and how they’re written is a big step forward on how they’re managed. If we write better contracts, we can get better service, and that’s the goal.”
But with tight streets in Boston, which provide little room for trash containers, the city has typically only been able to attract two or three bidders for each trash contract.
“It’s been tough attracting quality trash contractors to our city,” said Roache, who added that the city is also now making preparations ahead of hiring a new trash fellow.
Meanwhile, the city launched its compost program, which was also its first pilot in containerization, with 10,000 participants on July 1 of last year, said Roche, and the program is expected to add 10,000 more participants each July for the next three years. (There are currently between 6,000 and 7,000 city residents on the wait list for the program as well, he said.)
The program has already proven to be an unmitigated success, said Roache, resulting in the composting of 500 tons of materials in just its first six months.
And as the program hits a higher density, it will undoubtedly save the city money by reducing both the trash and recyclables steam, added Roache, who said while rates constantly fluctuate, it now costs $92 per ton to dispose of trash and between $100 and $115 per ton for recyclables.
John Ulrich, assistant commissioner of environmental services for the Inspectional Services Department and another panelist, said “integrated pest management” is the most effective way to address the prevalence of rodents in the city. He added that finding ways to reduce and containerize trash helps to diminish the food source available to rodents.
Using dry ice has been successful in reducing rodent infestations in the Boston Common and other parts of the city over the past few months, said Ulrich, and while most rodents travel no more than 300 feet from their burrows, it still remains difficult to gauge the actual number of them in the city.
Councilor Bok described trash and rodents as “the Number One quality of life issue” in her District 8, especially since a number of its neighborhoods don’t have containerization.
The problem is further exasperated , she said, by the city allowing residents to leave their trash out overnight after 5 p.m.
“We need to just not have trash out. Period,” said Councilor Bok, who added that things got even worse during the pandemic. “It’s just offering rats a buffet overnight.”
Councilor Bok suggested that “a tailored approach for each neighborhood” should be taken into account when the city negotiates its next trash contract, and that future opportunities for containerization should be explored in some neighborhoods.
Council President Flynn said illegal dumping of trash was another persistent problem, especially in his constituency of Chinatown, as well as other downtown neighborhoods.
David Stein of Tremont Street echoed Councilor Braedon, who referred to trash on city streets as a “perennial problem” and advocated for a citywide ban on single-ply trash bags, which he described as “troughs for rats.”
Stein asked about the metrics for measuring progress on tackling the city’s rodents problem and also suggested soliciting new ideas for combatting the problem from the trash collectors themselves.
Karen Clark, a Back Bay resident, also pointed to people disposing of trash in the alleys near Fairfield Street using inappropriate containers, including open boxes and paper bags.
“The problem is trash begets trash,” she said, “so we just have people dumping trash everywhere.”
Clark suggested that the city take steps to educate residents on proper trash disposal, such as posting signs on the corners of alleyways asking people to not leave their trash there, and to instead dispose of waste in a proper nearby trash receptable.
Meghan Awe, chair of the Beacon Hill Civic Association board of directors, said with people leaving trash out at 5 p.m. for a scheduled 6 a.m. pickup the next day, it often sits out overnight on the sidewalk, which besides adversely affecting accessibility and the general cleanliness of the neighborhood, also provides a food source for rodents.
Additionally, Beacon Hill, one of the city’s densest neighborhoods, especially on the North Slope, is grouped together for trash collection with other dense neighborhoods, including Charlestown, Roxbury, and the North End, she said.
“We really look forward to collaborating with the city to find better collection zones, and to make sure [trash collection] happens during daylight hours,” said Awe. “The Beacon Hill Civic Association steadfastly supports same-day pickup [starting at no later than 9 a.m.] so there is no trash out on the sidewalks overnight.”
Rob Whitney, a resident of Beacon Hill since 1985 and former chair and president of the BHCA board, also called for changing the pickup time to 9 a.m. in his written testimony to the city.
“I would propose putting into the next garbage hauling contract, the requirement that garbage collection on Beacon Hill and other City neighborhoods could not begin until 9 a.m. on garbage pickup days,” Whitney wrote in part. “I would also propose that city residents not be allowed to put out their garbage the night before pickup day, and instead be limited to putting out their garbage only during daylight hours just prior to the 9 a.m. pickup time. This is the only way that our City neighborhoods like Beacon Hill will even have a fighting chance in their epic battle against the rats.”
Likewise, Elliott Laffer, chair of the Neighborhood Association of the Back Bay board of directors, described the 6 a.m. trash pickup time as “really an intrusion for people who don’t have to be up for work.”
Diana Coldren, who has lived “all over Beacon Hill over the past two decades,” also said she would like to see a new trash contract that commits to a pickup time of no later than 9 a.m.
(Coldren started an online petition at https://www.change.org/p/stop-the-rat-buffet-in-beacon-hill requesting that the city adopt an 8 a.m. trash pickup time on Beacon Hill, which as of publication time had garnered 269 signatures towards its goal of 500 signatures.)
Moreover, Coldren requested that trash on Charles Street be pickup first in the neighborhood and also reiterated a suggestion that Boston follow New York City’s lead by allowing trash to be left out earlier in closed containers.