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Residents: Stop Overnight Commercial Trash Pickup

Boston City Councilors Felix G. Arroyo and Michael P. Ross held a hearing Monday on the sleep-depriving collections. Both councilors want the city, not the state, to regulate the pickups.

About a dozen Boston residents from a variety of neighborhoods said Monday night that they’re tired – some, literally exhausted – of being woken up by commercial trash and recycling trucks in the middle of every night.

“When the source (of the noise) is 10 feet away from you, it’s comparable to being awoken by a sledgehammer to the head night after night after night,” said Anne Pistorio, a member of the North End/Waterfront Residents’ Association.

Pistorio and the other residents testified at a well-attended hearing, set up by Boston City Councilors Felix G. Arroyo and Michael P. Ross in .

Home Rule Petition

The councilors, along with Boston state Reps. Martha M. Walz and Aaron M. Michlewitz, are working to get commercial trash and recycling pickup under the control of the city, instead of the state, through a home-rule petition. However, even if the city passes the petition, the move would still need to be approved by the legislature before the city would become exempt from the state law.

Arroyo and Ross said Boston has a unique situation, in that its commercial and residential properties are much more intertwined than other areas in the state, and, therefore, the city deserves local control, so that it can further regulate the collection as it sees fit.

“The state really has no business telling the City of Boston when it should have its trash picked up,” Ross, the District 8 councilor, said at the hearing.

Currently, the state does not restrict the time of commercial collections, which often happen overnight in the city, seven days a week. The city does control and operate its residential pickup, which is completed between 7 a.m. and 5 p.m. on weekdays.

“[The petition] doesn’t say when or when you can’t collect, it just says we have the authority,” said Arroyo, an At-Large councilor.

He said that discussion would come later.

Overnight Commercial Pickup “More Effective,” “Safer”

Regardless of the regulating body, the state or the city, representatives from commercial pickup companies said that daytime collection would be much less effective due to traffic, costing businesses more. They also said it would be less safe, as more pedestrians and motorists would be on the roads and sidewalks – not to mention, less sanitary.

“Think about what a morning in the city of Boston would look like if you were to start trash removal in the morning. It’d be inundated with piles of waste,” said Dan Murphy, of Mass Hauling and Capital Paper Recycling.

Residents said they didn’t believe that daytime collection would be a nuisance.

“We don’t live here in spite of the commercial properties, we live here because of them,” said Steve Wintermeier, of the Neighborhood Association of the Back Bay. “If commercial pickup was limited to 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. on weekdays and 8 a.m. to midnight on weekends, that seems reasonable to me.”

Both Arroyo and Ross said that just because the city would regulate the commercial pickup, it doesn’t mean that all overnight pickups would cease to exist. Ross did say that some changes need to be made though.

“We’re going to have to make changes that aren’t going to make everyone comfortable,” he said.

Other Points Brought Up at Monday’s Hearing

  • Constituent calls: Arroyo said a number of calls from constituents on the issue is what led him to seek the home-rule petition.
  • Fifteen neighborhood associations from throughout the city have written letters in support of the petition, Arroyo said.
  • Wee hours: Residents said they’re routinely woken up at 3, 4 and 5 a.m.
  • Violation of nighttime noise ordinance?: Residents said the trucks’ beeping while backing down alleys, the trucks’ mechanical noises and the sound of trash being dumped into the trucks and the dumpsters then being dropped on the ground all far exceed the city’s nighttime noise ordinance.
  • City position: The city has not yet taken an official position on the home-rule petition, according to Matthew Mayrl, chief of staff of the city’s Public Works Department. Representatives from the city did raise concerns about the impact daytime commercial pickup would have on residential pickup, traffic and rat control (as the trash would be out on the sidewalk or alley for a longer period of time).
  • Arroyo said some restaurant owners already do get their trash picked up during the day. Ross said he has contacted businesses about changing to daytime pickup (after constituent calls) but with limited success. “It usually works for a few weeks and then they switch back,” he said.
  • Franchising: Ross talked about “franchising” the city’s commercial trash pickup, or bidding out certain sections of the city to a particular company, so that multiple trucks from different companies wouldn’t be making similar runs. “The city does have the power to regulate [which companies] get licenses,” he said.
  • "Herculean effort": Murphy said overnight commercial collection in Boston is already a “Herculean effort” due to the city’s old layout and lack of loading docks. “We need low traffic hours to do the job,” he said.
  • Murphy testified alongside Chris Peters, of Allied Waste, and Steve Changaris, of the National Solid Wastes Management Association.

Editorial note: this article and comments section is shared across the Back Bay, Beacon Hill, Charlestown, South End, Jamaica Plain and West Roxbury Patch.com sites.  

don warner saklad February 28, 2012 at 12:44 PM
Full stenographic transcript of the last public meeting of Boston City Council http://bluemassgroup.com/2012/02/boston-city-council-file-may-be-indecipherable-by-the-average-reader/
Paul howe March 01, 2012 at 12:58 PM
Wow - what a shame. People create the garbage, but they want to ignore the need to pick it up safely and efficiently. So instead....let's put the haulers and the general public in more danger by forcing the congestion of having the trucks and workers right in the middle of more traffic. Brilliant!
BackBayRes March 01, 2012 at 02:30 PM
There is a balance that can be struck. Right now, the garbage is picked up all night long, with trucks idling and dumpsters crashing. Some nightime pickups may be necessary, but they can be limited rather than a haulers' free-for-all. The point is that the City needs to be empowered to deal with this issue, which is all the City Council is seeking right now through the Home Rule petition.
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