After volunteer citizens initiated a successful curbside composting pilot program, Hamilton and Wenham became the first cities on the East Coast of the USA to offer all residents curbside composting collection. Compost is collected weekly in 13-gallon containers and trash is collected every other week on a pay-as-you-throw system.
Curbside composting came to Hamilton and Wenham thanks to a volunteer, citizen-led project started in 2009. Citizens organized a pilot program and worked with a local hauler and compost facility to create a curbside service for interested residents. About 600 households, or 17% of residents, participated in the first two years. About 16 pounds of organics were collected from each household weekly.
Original participants paid $75 for a year’s collection service and $29 for a kitchen counter bucket and a green curbside barrel. The state Department of Environmental Protection provided funding to help purchase some of the bins.
In 2011, the towns were considering changes to their pay-as-you-throw trash system and decided in favor of expanding the composting service to the entire community because of the cost savings.
Before the changes, both towns had weekly trash collection and every other week recycling, and only a limited voluntary composting pilot. The new program offered weekly recycling, added weekly composting for all residents, and dropped the trash service down to every other week. It was called SMART: Saving Money and Reducing Trash.
The towns spend about $650,000 per year in waste removal, split between collection costs and tipping fees. Tipping fees are more than $70 per ton at the local incinerator. Hamilton expected to save $80,000 to $100,000 per year with the SMART program by reducing the trash for disposal and reducing labor costs with more automated routes.
In 2012, curbside composting became a permanent service for all residents with weekly collection of all food waste, soiled and low-grade paper, bioplastics, and small amounts of yard waste such as potted plants and weeds.
Branches, brush, grass clippings and other yard waste can be dropped off at the recycling center once a month. There are leaf collection events throughout the year.
Every property received a 13-gallon compost container and a kitchen counter collection pail. Residents are allowed to use BPI certified compostable bags to line their containers.
Hamilton and Wenham pick up one 35-gallon trash container from households every other week in a town-issued trash container. If residents have additional trash, they must purchase a special bag for the trash and set it out alongside the barrel. There is no limit on the number of bags residents can set out for disposal.
Bags are available in 16-gallon and 33-gallon sizes. Hamilton’s bags are blue and costs $1 and $1.75 respectively, while Wenham’s bags are green and cost $1 and $2 respectively.
There was a lot of concern that every other week trash service would not be enough for some families, so the town added a supplemental program for residents to set out blue bags of trash on the off weeks as well.
Both towns contract to a single hauler for town-wide collections. Residents can hire their own trash hauler but are still obligated to pay for the town’s trash service as part of their taxes.
Businesses receive the same curbside trash service as residents but must contract with a private hauler for any additional trash volumes.
Residents also receive weekly collection of 35 gallons of recycling.
Nearly half of all households were participating in the composting program as of September 2012, and the towns were surveying residents to learn more on how to increase participation. Hamilton saved $25,000 in disposal costs with the new organics program and the recycling rate rose from 32% to over 50%.