Portsmouth mulls changes to downtown trash collection

PORTSMOUTH — The City Council will soon consider whether to change the trash and recyclable collection times in the city’s historic downtown.
Trash in the downtown currently isn’t picked up until late afternoon, which causes issues, according to Jacob Levenson, recycling and solid waste coordinator for the city.

“It’s difficult because you get a blend of business and residents downtown,” Levenson said during a recent City Council workshop. “Residents go to work and they’re not back before 4 o’clock to put their trash out so they put it out in the morning and it sits there all day. Anyone who’s been downtown on a Monday, you’ve seen the issues.”

Levenson told councilors that the Department of Public Works conducted a survey of downtown residents and businesses.

“Overwhelmingly, the residents preferred a morning pickup,” he said. “Businesses preferred the evening but it was a little closer.”

Options to deal with the problem include “segregating the business and residents pick-up time” of the day or week “so we have a special pick-up for residents only and a special pick-up for businesses only,” Levinson said.

They could also implement centralized Dumpsters for residents, but Levenson acknowledged that would be difficult because of limited space downtown.

Levenson told city councilors “doing an early morning pick-up in the downtown is the goal.”

To do that, the City Council will have to approve an ordinance change being drawn up by the DPW.

Levenson said residents were surveyed “on what they would like to see us work on and they overwhelmingly said it was more public space recycling.”

Levenson acknowledged employees struggle with downtown recycling.

“There’s a lot of contamination unfortunately in those downtown bins,” he said. “Unfortunately, people mix their trash and recyclables in them and it’s difficult for us to process them.”

In addition to potentially changing downtown collection times, the city also wants to “update the maximum weight and volume of acceptable curbside containers,” Levenson said.

City Councilor Eric Spear floated the idea of creating a regional incinerator plant. He told councilors he had visited Stockholm, Sweden, which is celebrated for being a green city, and it doesn’t recycle. Everything is either composted or burned in a waste-to-energy plant, which also creates electricity when the trash is burned.

“Call it visionary or call it crazy; we’re talking about changing the hours for downtown pickup,” Spear said. “What I’m talking about is completely off the reservation.”

City Manager John Bohenko said before he became city manager in Portsmouth he dealt with two waste-to-energy plants. He said they were successful but the difficulty now is siting a plant. He said when the trash is burned it creates an ash that must be taken to a landfill. Plus, building a new plant “has become so contentious” it’s difficult to get one built, he said.

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