To solve the problems of landfill fires and mountains of garbage at its dumpster sites, the Public Works Department is planning for house-to-house garbage collection.
Commissioner Harold Thompson Jr. told members of the Senate Committee on Planning and Environmental Protection on Friday that house-to-house collection will start in October on all three islands. Such a system would solve many of the departments waste problems, especially if it were operated by a semi-autonomous solid waste authority, Thompson said.
House-to-house collection will also give Public Works a more accurate picture when it comes time to set fees, Thompson said. Currently, the territorys landfills dont charge a tipping fee.
Home service, Thompson said, "works because of the manner in which the garbage is stored; because more tonnage per hour and per dollar is collected; because separation of the garbage at the source becomes easily implemented when necessary; because there is actual separation of residential and commercial garbage . . . and our cost to collect is even less than the methods we presently utilize."
The current system uses roll-on-roll-off bins at various locations on each island, said Roan Creque, special projects coordinator at Public Works. Creque said he put the bin system in place in 1982 only for the collection of large items like appliances, mattresses and box springs. But after hurricanes, the bins began to be used to collect household waste.
"FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) paid for the bins and the racket continued," Creque said, adding that the areas around the bins have become "mini landfills all over the island. The evidence was the . . . strike."
A week-long strike by garbage haulers on St. Croix earlier in February caused mountains of garbage to pile up at the bin collection sites. The haulers stopped collecting the governments trash because they are owed millions of dollars dating as far back as 1996. Garbage collection resumed after new contracts were signed.
Creque said house-to-house garbage collection will avert similar actions in the future; is the cheaper form of collection, saving $500,000 a year on St. Croix alone; and makes it easier to implement source separation. He said a few bins will remain, but their use will be limited.
"We intend to reduce the amount of roll-on-roll-off bins, which eliminates the unsightliness they bring as well as the significant cost attached to that style of collection," Thompson said. "This reduction helps to finance house-to-house collection."
Having residents and commercial users separate garbage at their homes and businesses will make operating the governments landfills easier and safer, said Dean Plaskett, commissioner of Planning and Natural Resources.
"We have combustible materials mixed with others and it gets compacted with the methane and a spark goes off," Plaskett said. "I think now with this landfill fire, weve seen it essential we get into some . . . form of recycling."
Creque, however, cautioned that recycling in the territory shouldnt be compared to that on the mainland. He said the volume of recyclables generated locally makes it difficult to cover shipping and other costs, therefore affecting profitability.