Trash clash: Why the town won’t dump orange bags

May 12, 2019

Katie Mathes has had it up to here with the town’s orange garbage bags.

Although a lifelong Dartmouth resident, Mathes only recently switched from private company ABC Disposal to the town’s Pay As You Throw (PAYT) solid waste program.

PAYT programs — in which participants pay to dispose of their own garbage — can help decrease the amount of waste going to landfills. In Dartmouth, participants pay a yearly rate and must buy the orange bags at $2 a bag for the large size and $1 a bag for the small, which helps incentivize recycling.

But Mathes is unhappy with the quality of the bags. “The garbage bags seem to be extremely flimsy,” she said, adding, “Honestly I have zero issues with the whole program itself, other than the bags.”

She’s not alone. Dartmouth residents have long complained about the bright orange bags — to neighbors, friends, and even town representatives.

“You see the same posts on Facebook all the time,” Mathes said. “And it’s always about the trash bags. And now that I’m actually doing [PAYT], I’m seeing the frustration that people have.”

She noted that some people have told her to recycle more so that she has less trash, but she already recycles. “My bins are full,” she said, adding that her trash bags aren’t overflowing, either.

“I mean, I realize I might need a bag or two for a family or five,” Mathes laughed. “But you go to like tie it off, and it rips right at the seal where they’ve put the cinch…they’re defective,” she said.

According to Director of Public Works David Hickox, however, the bags are a certain weight (or thickness) for very specific reasons.

“This is something that the Board of Public Works has explored in the past,” he said. “We looked at a heavier weight bag.”

He said that if the town of Dartmouth switched to a heavier bag, three things would happen: the town would have to pay more for the bags, in turn increasing bag costs for residents; they’d get more waste in the bags, so the cost of disposal would go up; and finally, with staff picking up sometimes a thousand bags per day, the risk of injury would increase as well.

“People have mentioned it to board members in the past, we’ve explored it in the past, and for the reasons stated we’ve decided to stay with this particular bag,” Hickox explained. “It’s by far the most popular weight bag for this type of program.”

Hickox also stressed that if residents don’t use the program, then they aren’t paying for it. The costs are covered entirely by revenues from the base fees and bags.

“It’s not a money maker,” he added. “It’s a lean operation.”

He noted that the state’s Department of Environmental Protection “strongly encouraged” these types of programs because they incentivize recycling.

“I think it’s been a really good thing for the community,” he stated.

And although Hickox said he understands that there have been some complaints, he also has no idea how many program participants are actually unhappy about the bags.

“We have 9700 [participating homes],” he said. “Is it a thousand? Is it thousands? Or is it a hundred?”

According to Hickox, the garbage bag vendor is North Carolina-based company WasteZero.

As a certified B-corporation — a type of company with a central mission other than to just make a profit — WasteZero’s website states that it wants to cut trash across the United States in half and help protect the environment.

Hickox said that the company is probably the main vendor in Massachusetts. “We’ve been with them since the inception of the program,” he stated.

He also stressed that if any bags are really defective, and not just overloaded, “We want to know about it…If residents have a roll of defective bags, they should contact the DPW and we’ll replace them at no charge.”

But for Mathes, it sometimes feels as if complaining won’t do any good. “You feel like what’s the point. You’re wasting your breath,” she said. “And honestly I don’t have the time to go start a petition or anything like that.”

She added, “Don’t get me wrong. I’ve lived here my entire life. I have a family here, I was born in Dartmouth. I love Dartmouth.”

But she feels as if town representatives need to listen. “If they see these things as being a constant issue,” she said, “then those are the things that they should be fighting for us.”