March 1, 2024

Windham converting to automated trash removal this fall

By Ed Pierce

It’s been about 15 months since the Windham Town Council approved an agreement with Casella Waste Systems also known as Pine Tree Waste, to convert the town to an automated trash removal system and this week, town officials have said this September will be the official roll out of the new system.

By September the Town of Windham will be
converting to a new automated trash
collection system with residents issued new
carts for garbage and recycling. As a result,
the blue bags required for the Pay As You
Throw refuse system will be eliminated.
Under the new system, Windham residents will no longer use the Pay As You Throw (PAYT) system, eliminating the purchase of blue bags, and switching to a cart system with trash picked-up curbside by a driver using an automated retrieval system. Currently trash and recyclables are manually collected at the roadside which requires a trash truck driver and a trash laborer and services more than 5,400 stops in the town.

Windham Town Manager Barry Tibbetts said that homes in Windham will be issued two new durable carts on wheels, one for trash and the other for recycling. The new contract calls for residential pick-up service which is scheduled once a week Monday through Thursday using designated routes and should a pick-up fall on a legal holiday or on severe winter storm days, the schedule would be pushed back one day. Funding was included in the town’s annual budget to purchase trash carts and recycling carts for residents.

The new system was supposed to be in place in 2023 but was delayed as Casella Waste Systems purchased and waited to obtain new automated trucks with mechanical retrieval arms from an out-of-state manufacturer.

Tibbetts said he’s had discussions with the towns of Falmouth and North Yarmouth to share cart maintenance service for the trash carts as those towns are also converting to automated trash pick-up.

Casella officials say that all trash routes in Windham will be evaluated before the new system becomes effective and that includes trash removal for some roads in Windham that Pine Tree Waste does not travel on now because of truck size limitations or roadway obstacles. It does not expect to make any changes to the current trash collection day schedule.

According to Casella Market Manager Chris McHale, the company may purchase and deploy a smaller trash collection truck to service roads and streets in Windham that are not accessible by the new automated trash vehicles. He said that the company intends to work with residents to provide the best service possible, but because of rising operational costs and advances in technology, the trash removal industry is converting to automated systems and unfortunately can no longer continue to provide a similar system to the one currently used in Windham and other nearby communities.

“This makes for a more efficient and safer way for collecting trash,” McHale said.

The decision to convert to this automated system was difficult for town councilors but Casella, one of the only trash companies working in the state with the resources to serve municipalities such as Windham said it would not renew its contract with the town unless Windham residents converted to the new system. Casella said it has difficulty finding staff and rising costs for its Pine Tree Waste business model and this has resulted in it asking Maine towns to convert to automated systems which require fewer drivers and reduced operating expenses.

In August, about a week or so before the new automated trash system begins, residents will receive one 64-gallon trash cart and one 64-gallon recycling cart. Elderly residents using less trash may request smaller 48-gallon carts.

The automated trash system contract between Casella and the town runs through June 30, 2028. Windham will then have an option to renew the contract for an additional five-year period by providing at least six months of advance notice to Casella before the contract expires.

Not having the PAYT system would mean losing that revenue and increased tipping fees incurred by the town for EcoMaine if residents place improperly bagged waste items in carts that is picked up when the trash truck operator is unable to see what is in the cart below the top. Windham blue trash bags are sold at 15 different locations in town and priced at $13.50 for either ten 13-gallon bags or five 30-gallon bags.

Tibbetts said that once the new system is implemented and operational, residents possessing blue bags would be able to sell unused bags back to the town. <

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