YARMOUTH — After several years of discussion and debate, the town appears ready to move forward with a plan to upgrade the transfer station and switch to a pay-to-throw method for disposal of household waste.

At its Feb. 7 meeting, the Town Council gave staff the OK to move forward on finalizing costs for the changeover and scheduled an initial vote for Feb. 28.

Councilor Timothy Shannon said, “what we’re talking about (tonight) is a first pass, but it makes sense to have concrete numbers” for both the council and the public to work with as planning moves ahead.

He also said it would be vitally important to ensure the process is “public, transparent and fully vetted” before any actual changes in trash disposal are made.

Public Works Director Erik Street told councilors “the biggest attractiveness (to switching to pay-to-throw) is the equity it provides.” This way, he said, residents are only paying for what they are actually throwing away.

Street also said that moving to pay-to-throw, which would involve requiring residents to purchase special trash bags, provides a significant incentive to increase recycling.

The hope is that with pay-to-throw, Yarmouth could get to a 40 percent recycling rate, he said. Currently the town’s recycling rate is about 36 percent.

In introducing the measure, Town Manager Nate Tupper said the town has been thinking about making changes at the transfer station and the way trash and recycling are handled for several years.

But Council Chairman Robert Waeldner was also clear that “this is just a step in the process. We’re not making any final decisions tonight.”

Street called trash disposal a “sticky problem” and one that town staff and the Recycling Committee have “put a lot of work and effort into to get to this point.”

Under the proposal, the town would realign the transfer station to accommodate two new compactors, one for trash and one for recycling, as well as other necessary site improvements.

That capital project is expected to cost about $500,000, depending on the design chosen, according to numbers provided by Street.

However, the town’s cost for disposing of household waste is expected to drop by about $100,000, from the total cost today of $545,000 to a projected $464,000. That would include estimated revenue of about $265,200 per year from the sale of trash bags.

Street said additional savings are expected by closing the town’s two satellite transfer stations – the Harbor Pump Station on Route 88 and one near the Yarmouth Beverage Redemption Center on Route 1.

He also said the town would be getting rid of the silver bullets used for recycling, which he called inefficient and difficult to transport. The new compactor, Street said, should collect between six and eight tons of material, as opposed to the silver bullets, which only allowed for about a ton or a ton and a half per load.

How much an individual household might save by having the costs of trash disposal removed from their property tax bill would depend on how many trash bags they use annually and how much they recycle, Street said.

Unfortunately, even as Yarmouth is moving to reduce its overall waste disposal costs, Street said the cost per ton to get rid of household trash at ecomaine in Portland is going up from $70.50 a ton to $73 as of July 1.

And, for the first time, he said ecomaine would be charging the town a fee to accept recyclables, mostly because of collapsing recycling markets – particularly overseas – and increased rates of contamination.

Street assured councilors he’s not expecting to need additional staff, but he is recommending a change to a four-day week at the transfer station.

In closing out the discussion Feb. 7, Councilor Andrew Kittredge said that moving to pay-to-throw “seems like a no-brainer. It allows each homeowner to only pay for what they’re throwing (out).”

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

Erik Street, Yarmouth’s public works director, speaks about moving to pay-to-throw trash disposal at the Feb. 7 council meeting.