The $20,000 question: Paper or plastic?

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:59

    WARWICK-Fall is one of the most beautiful times of the year, especially here in Warwick. The apples are ready, pumpkins, too. And the leaves are turning their vibrant reds and yellows. They are also falling, which brings yet another Warwick tradition — leaf pick-up for village residents. Not only does the village pick-up leaves bagged by residents, it also provides the bags, and has for many years. This year, though, the board debating whether to continue providing plastic bags to residents for the leaves or go to an ecologically friendlier alternative — paper. There are pros and cons to both. The most obvious con with the plastic bags is, well, they are plastic. As the Department of Public Works picks up the bags and brings them to compost, someone must cut open each bag — and there are lots of them — and dispose of the plastic bag. This creates many man-hours, not to mention a large pile of plastic left. The good thing about the plastic bags is they are cheaper than paper. Not only do they hold more — 46 gallons as compared to 30 with paper — they stretch so residents can cram in a few more leaves. Although the cost of plastic bags has gone up over the past year to 46 cents per bag, the paper bags cost 54 cents each. The village budgeted $8,000 this year for bags. If it went to paper, the cost would rise to around $20,000, Mayor Michael Newhard said. “As much as I’d like to see us do a paper program, we can’t do it this year,” Newhard said. Although the paper alternative would be better for the environment, there are downsides to them as well. In addition to holding less and costing more, the paper bags would basically disintegrate in the rain. Since the DPW can’t pick up the entire village’s leaves in a day, many would sit outside in the elements until the truck comes along. There was a time when the village used a vacuum truck to pick up leaves. Residents simply raked their leaves into the gutter and the truck came by and sucked up the leaves. There were no bags involved at all. Newhard said that method could be dangerous. With leaves piled by the curb, cars parked on them and once caused a fire. Also, there is the danger of a child playing in the leaves and getting run over by an unsuspecting motorist. Trustee Bill Iurato said he’s spoken with the school district about using its garbage truck for leaf pick up on a trial basis this year. Now, DPW workers use dump trucks to pick up the bags of leaves. A garbage truck would allow the workers to make fewer trips, since it compacts the leaves and carries more of them. “We are going to try that for a day this year and see how it works,” said Newhard. This year, the board decided, there will be no change. The village will replace bags for residents as they are used. It will reconsider in the spring at budget time, though, whether to continue the program with plastic bags, switch to paper bags, look into biodegradable plastic, use a garbage truck and compact the leaves, or possibly discontinue the bag program altogether.