The New Haven Board of Aldermen may have found a way to turn trash into cash.
The Joint City Services and Environmental Policy and Finance committees met last night to discuss the creation of a New Haven Solid Waste Authority, which would eliminate the city’s direct role in waste management and place these responsibilities in the hands of an independent contractor.
The majority of the aldermen present at the meeting expressed support for the concept of a Solid Waste Authority but were still unclear on what the bylaws might be and how the program would be implemented. The Board passed a motion to readdress the item at the Board of Aldermen meeting on March 17.
Under the plan — proposed by the Department of Public Works — the waste-management facility the city currently uses would be leased to the independent contractor, earning the city of New Haven approximately $6 million in revenue.
“The purpose of overhauling the system is to stabilize and reduce the cost of solid-waste disposal services for the city,” Larry Rusconi, the city’s budget director, said at the meeting. “We need to bring the escalating costs under control.”
Waste-management services in New Haven are currently run by two competing vendors, whose internal rules of operation often differ. Isabella Schroeder, a consultant at Malcolm-Pirnie hired by the city to work on the creation of an authority, criticized the two companies, who she said intentionally devise opposing schemes to make New Haven pay more money.
“One vendor charges the city more money if its waste tonnage is over the limit, while the other charges New Haven money if they don’t meet the minimum,” Schroeder said.
The National Solid Waste Management Association, the parent company of the two New Haven organizations, did not return requests for comment on Monday night.
It currently costs the city $93 per ton to dispose of New Haven’s solid waste.
But Schroeder said creating the New Haven Solid Waste Authority would not just save the money lost by having two contracts, it could also potentially generate new revenue through the expansion of recycling programs in the city.
“Right now it costs us $23 to recycle a ton of materials,” said Rob Smuts ’01, chief administrative officer for New Haven, at the meeting. “If we create the authority, not only would it cost nothing, but we might be able to get companies to pay us for our recyclable goods.”
New Haven Director of Public Works John Prokop said a large portion of this recycling revenue could potentially come from New Haven businesses. He said he is not aware of any commercial businesses in New Haven that recycle, based on his personal investigation of a substantial number of downtown restaurants. The new program would reverse this trend, he said.
Smuts said eight percent to nine percent of New Haven’s current solid waste is recycled, and the Solid Waste Authority would be able to at least double that number.
The New Haven Solid Waste Authority ultimately would reduce the financial burden placed on New Haven taxpayers, allow the city to pay off some of its outstanding debts and generate revenue that could be used for other city initiatives, Rusconi said.
But Ward TK Alderwoman Frances “Bitsie” Clark expressed concern that a hasty decision to create such an authority could have consequences and moved to continue evaluating the proposal.