FALMOUTH — An informal survey conducted at the polls on Election Day 2018 shows 60 percent of respondents are satisfied with the way residential trash and recyclables are currently collected.

Even so, town councilors last week agreed with Town Manager Nathan Poore that further study of the financial impact of moving to a more regional, automated pick-up system is warranted.

While Council Chairman Caleb Hemphill acknowledged at the Jan. 14 meeting “that there is some hesitation about changing things, I personally don’t think the current waste collection system is sustainable.”

He added “there are significant reasons why Falmouth needs to look at this (automated) technology and approach.”

The three-question survey last November was the result of a presentation councilors received in late October from ecomaine, the nonprofit waste management organization that serves more than 70 member communities, including Falmouth.

In that presentation, ecomaine CEO Kevin Roche touted the idea of Falmouth moving to automated trash pick-up as a more efficient and ultimately more cost-efficient method of residential waste disposal.

Trash and recyclables are now picked up manually and placed in a collection truck by employees of Pine Tree Waste. Many homeowners also still drop off their own trash and recyclables at the town transfer station.

Falmouth moved to pay-per-bag trash disposal in 1993, and four years ago it considered, but eventually rejected, the idea of moving to trash carts and automated pick-up, mostly because of the then-estimated cost of about $400,000.

But last week Poore said there is definitely “some value in looking at working with other communities to collectively form a better, more efficient (trash) collection route,” and noted that Cumberland is “very interested” in the possibility.

In the end, he said, moving to automation is really more of a “when, not if” scenario. Poore said advantages include more efficiency, less labor, and the carts would better contain trash and recyclables than open bins do now.

Poore said that while he didn’t want to discount the results of last fall’s survey, he said it was a small sample and the impact of moving to automation on the municipal budget and individual households in town was “worthy of an additional look.”

Kimberly Darling, the town’s sustainability coordinator, said 526 residents took the trash survey, either at the polls on Election Day or on the town’s website.

Sixty percent said they were satisfied with the current collection program, while 34 percent said it could be better, Darling said in a memo shared with the Town Council. In addition, she said, 63 percent wanted to keep the current pay-to-throw system.

When it came to the potential tax impact of implementing automated trash pick-up, Darling said 40 percent didn’t want the cost added to their property taxes, while 32 percent expressed some support for automation.

She said the comments she received included requests for more detailed information on automated trash pick-up, including how it would work and how the costs would be shared.

At the Jan. 14 meeting, Councilor Aaron Svedlow said moving to automated trash collection is inevitable. Several other councilors agreed.

However, Councilor Amy Kuhn said that before she could support such a change, she would need “more concrete examples” of how much it would cost individual homeowners and “what it would mean to them personally.”

Poore asked for and received permission to conduct a general cost-benefit analysis, which would include the impact on the town’s future budgets and financial scenarios for individual households.

He said the research could take several months to complete and he didn’t anticipate having a report for councilors to review until sometime in the spring.

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 780-9097 or [email protected]. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KIrishCollins.

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