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Talking trash: Shirley officials roll out new pickup program

SHIRLEY – Robust turnout at a forum aptly titled “Let’s Talk Some Trash” Tuesday night prompted one resident to comment that the crowd was “bigger than at town meeting.” True or not, it was clear that the topic – the town’s new trash and recycling pickup program — had piqued people’s interest.

Town Administrator Mike McGovern, Board of Health Chairman Jay Howlett and Irene Congdon, the state’s Recycling Coordinator for central Massachusetts, headed up the hour-plus presentation, which included paging through an FAQ list sent out in a recent mailer, with added details.

Main points McGovern addressed in his lead-in included billing, which will be quarterly, about $60 per quarter per household, or $245 a year, with a discounted rate for seniors set at half that amount; bins that will replace town trash bags and an outline of how the program will work.

Two “toters,” (64-gallon for trash, 96-gallon or recycling) will replace green town trash bags. The bins will be delivered to participating households next week. Pickup starts the following week.

Pickup days and schedules stay the same: once a week for trash, every other week for recycling.

Asked if the hauler would still take town trash bags, the answer was no. Unless the bag is parked beside an official bin on pick-up day, in which case the hauler can take it, along with the contents of the bin.

The town won’t buy the bags back, either. And the same goes for town-issued, blue recycling boxes. You can’t use them as pick-up receptacles and the town can’t take them back, McGovern said. But he’s open to re-use suggestions.

Asked how the town knows where to leave the toters, McGovern said they compiled a list, based on the hauler’s current stops and used assessors data to add the “owner of record” for those addresses. That is, the person who gets billed for the service, assuming those households want to participate, he said. “It’s an opt-out program,” he said. Meaning you’re in otherwise.

To pinpoint senior-headed households, for discounts, the town clerk provided that information.

It all seemed to stack up, but plans can go awry, McGovern conceded. If so, no problem.

If you don’t want to participate but bins get dropped off at your home, call his office, he said. (978-425-2600, ext. 200.) The DPW will retrieve the town-owned toters and your household will be removed from the list. And if you didn’t get them, but want to participate, it works the same way. Call to sign up and bins will be delivered to your home.

Recycling was Congdon’s territory. She talked about what can and can’t go into the recycling bin and what to do with outflow.

No hazardous material. No commercial or construction debris. No yard waste, auto parts or glass. No light bulbs, paint cans, tires, auto fluids, propane tanks, lighter fluid or batteries.

Cans, jars, bottles can go in, but rinse them out first, please. No wet, mushy or gooey gunk, ever!

Also on the no-fly list: plastic bags, steel utensils, pots and pans. Metal items don’t belong at recycling facilities. “Scrap metals can wreak havoc on conveyor belts,” she said. Same goes for broken glass and plastic bags, which “gum up the works,” she said.

Textiles – discarded clothes and sneakers, for example, might have another life ahead. You can donate old clothes or dump them in a designated drop-off bin, even if they are ratty. But never if they are wet.

Surprisingly, pizza boxes are okay, but not if there’s pizza inside. No food!

Congdon noted that there’s an annual event, open to all, that should help with some discard dilemmas, from mattresses to defunct electronics. On Saturday, Oct. 26, “Recycle Your Reusables” will be held at 1 Bemis Way. The group’s website has a complete list of items you can drop off that day, from Styrofoam to old clothes, with charities and other organizations on site to take them.

For year-round clutter-clearing, Congdon suggested some go-to options. Google to find textile drop-off bin locations, for example. And for a full list of recycling dos and don’ts, visit The website is an all-purpose fact-finding resource and it’s easy to use.

Basically, though, when it comes to recyclables versus non-recyclables, one rule applies, always. Never try to recycle wet, gummy, gooey or icky items, no matter what the material is. “If it’s wet, it’s trash,” Congdon said.

Besides recycling centers in Devens, Howlett said the town still has one on Leominster Road, near the former town landfill. It will stay open through October with the same hours: Saturday, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. But as of Nov. 1, containers that are there now will be gone, he said.

But the site won’t close entirely. On the second and fourth Saturday of every month, residents can bring leaves, lawn clippings, and other items there, same hours. There’s a fee for tires, appliances, TVs and computers, he said. Scrap metal? Bring it on, no charge. As for couches and mattresses, you can call E.L. Harvey, who will arrange to pick them up, for a relatively small fee, Howlett said.

The presentation wrapped with a question and answer session. There were plenty of questions, mostly about logistics.

A Garrison Road resident posed a particularly sticky problem: How to get those hefty bins to the end of the road for pickup every week. Unlike the town trash bags, the bins won’t fit in the car, she said.

“We’re on a dirt road, half a mile long” that the hauler doesn’t service, she said.

Hers is the last house on the dead-end street. Four other households are in the same boat on the private, unpaved section of the road, the condition of which is bad, most of the time, worse in winter.

“The truck won’t come down our road,” the woman said. Neither does the town plow or the school bus, for that matter.

The bins are huge, won’t fit in the car, and it’s daunting to think of dragging them that far, uphill, in winter, she said.

“Maybe there’s a place…at the end?” McGovern said.

A neighbor at the end of the road allows use of his frontage as a trash pickup point now, the woman said, but when it’s a line-up of great big bins outside his house every week, versus a bunch of bags, it could be a different story. Either way, getting the bins down the road in the first place is still at issue.

Another woman who lives on a private way off Squannacook Road raised a similar issue. “We can get the bags in the car, but not the bins,” she said. “And we can’t leave them on the road.”

McGovern promised to work with those families to find solutions. “We’ll need to figure out these unique situations,” he said.

What about multi-family homes?

Currently, if there are more than six units, the owner must provide bins and hire his own hauler. Otherwise, the owner of record pays the bill, whether or not there are bins for each household.

But what if the owner opts out, tenants can’t simply go buy trash bags anymore and there’s no provision for billing them separately. So what do they do?

If an issue like that comes up, Howlett said the health board will deal with it.

“Owners are responsible for trash pickup for their tenants,” he said. So it an owner opts out of the town program, he must find another way, such as hiring a private hauler. There’s no choice, Howlett said.