Mitchell to ABC Disposal: No ‘Blank Check’ for Recycling Pickup
New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell is making it clear: he's not just trash talking when it comes to talking trash.
Mitchell is willing to move on from the City's contract with ABC Disposal Service if the company wants more money to cover its recycling costs without proving it's about financial viability instead of just profitability.
"If you're going to require the City of New Bedford to pay more money, we want to see the basis for it," Mitchell said in his weekly appearance on WBSM. "I'm not giving a blank check to ABC Disposal, or anyone else. I don't do blank checks."
"We're going to continue to push for a resolution. If it's with ABC, that's better, but if not, it'll be with somebody else," he said.
The City is currently in year five of a 10-year contract with ABC Disposal, paying the company just under $5 million per year for hauling away trash and recyclables, according to Mitchell.
ABC has said that after June 30, it will no longer be able to collect recycling in New Bedford--as well as four other local municipalities in which it has recycling contracts, including Fairhaven, Mattapoisett and Rochester--if the communities are not willing to pay more for the service.
Most recyclables are eventually sold to China, but that country has instituted a new National Sword Policy that will limit what materials it will take in, meaning ABC will have to pay more to get rid of the recyclables it collects. The company claims footing the bill itself will lead to its financial demise, and that changes need to be made to what is considered a recyclable.
The communities responded with a letter formally requesting to see ABC's books, to prove that it's too big of a financial risk. They've said that if ABC does not comply, they'll look elsewhere, as failing to collect recyclables on July 1 would put ABC in breach of contract.
"We're not going to wait that long to figure it out. If we don't think ABC can do the job, we're going to go with someone else," Mitchell said. "We're acting now, we're not messing around. We don't want to wait for the stroke of midnight to figure things out."
Mitchell said the issue has "been brewing for at least the last six months or so." He also pointed out that the City has had a good relationship with ABC, a family-owned business that has employed a lot of New Bedford residents over the past half-century, he said.
"So we value that relationship," he said. "They're in a tough spot right now, I don't think there's any denying that, and some of that is of their own making, some business decisions they've made over the last few years."
"I'm sympathetic to their plight, but on the other hand, I have an obligation to the city's residents and taxpayers to make sure their money is being well spent," he said.
Mitchell said the City is currently "in talks with more than one company," but declined to give any more information than that. He did say the City owns the barrels used for residential collection, and that residents would not notice a difference if the City is forced to go with another hauler. He did say going back to city-owned trash collection was not an option.
However, Mitchell talked about some of the moves being made to help with waste management in the city.
"One of the things we're doing right now, over the past year, is to explore the possibility of building what's called an 'anaerobic digester,'" Mitchell said. "A biofuel facility where organic material, including sludge from the wastewater treatment plant, as well as so-called fogs--fats, oils and greases, all the stuff from restaurants--that can be put in that facility."
"That can generate electricity, actual gas that can power vehicles," he said. "We're doing a lot of planning for a facility like that, that would go on Shawmut Avenue, away from neighborhoods. There are still a lot of details to work out, but that's something we're working on."
Mitchell said refuse issues are becoming more challenging, but said the City is trying to stay ahead of the problem. He noted that the Crapo Hill landfill currently can accommodate another 17 years of waste, but that there is nowhere else to build a new landfill in the area. He also said the state has been reluctant to allow the construction of any new trash incinerators.