M.E. Jones / Lowell Sun
The signature green trash bags with the Shirley town seal will soon be a memory as a new bin-based program kicks in this fall

SHIRLEY — It’s no surprise by now that the town’s pay-per-back trash program is phasing out, with a new bin-based system set to come on line in October, replacing disposable bags with durable bins.

Each participating household gets one 64- gallon bin, or cart, for trash and one 95-gallon size for recycling.

The cost: $60.88 per quarter, or $243 a year. Seniors, with a discount, pay $125 annually.

Bills will go out each quarter, same as but separate from property tax bills, Town Administrator Mike McGovern said this week.

Why the switch? Because the existing program, managed by the health board, has become a money pit.

It was designed to pay for itself, but it isn’t working out that way, at least not any more.

The current cost for the signature green trash bags is $2.50 for each large bag, $25 for a package of 10.

As Board of Health Chairman Jay Howlett has pointed out, that makes the new program a good deal for most residents.

Say a family of four puts out one large bag each week. That totals out to $130 a year. But the cost of bags would likely go up, Howlett said. And a 65-gallon bin should hold about as much as two big bags.

Tax dollars must be figured in as well, since the town pitches in to help pay for the program, which has dipped into the red in recent years.

And the gap will keep widening as expenses escalate. Tipping fees, for example, now $75 per ton, are expected to continue rising. And as Howlett has said more than once, the last straw was recycling.

Formerly offered as a free perk by haulers, who made money on recyclable materials, it now costs them money to get rid of it, with nations that once accepted it now charging for it or refusing shipments.

“It’s a world wide problem,” Howlett told the selectmen in April, and the goal now is to stabilize costs.

The initial capital outlay for the new program – approved at Annual Town Meeting in May — was $215,000 to buy bins from an outfit called Rehrig Pacific, a leader in the business, according to McGovern.

Updating the selectmen Monday night, he sketched a picture of how the ball should start to roll.

First, a company representative rides around town with the hauler to tag regular stops. The next step: tally that outcome versus a residential street listing to identify households likely to use the bins.

With addresses established, bins will be delivered to each participating household before the October deadline. But McGovern cautioned that there’s no guarantee the match-ups will be flawless.

Then what? Anyone who is inadvertently bypassed can simply call the Town Offices to have bins dropped off.

The same goes for those who might receive unwanted bins: call to have them picked up. “It’s an opt-out system,” he said.

Meantime, McGovern plans to work with the Board of Health and the Communications Committee to get the word out, hopefully with a public information session for starters. No date yet but stay tuned.