Bangor is considering adopting a new waste disposal system in which trucks with robotic arms -- similar to this one used by the city of Melbourne, Florida -- remove waste from 96-gallon plastic bins that would be distributed to residents. Credit: Courtesy of the City of Melbourn

Less than a month after Bangor residents began mixing trash and recycling into the same loads of waste that are collected from the curb each week, the city will consider making another major change to the way it handles trash.

On Monday night, the City Council will decide whether to adopt a new system next summer that would provide residents with large plastic bins that can be filled with waste and emptied by trucks that have robotic arms on their sides.

By cutting out the labor that’s required for workers to manually dump waste into the backs of garbage trucks, the proposed switch would save the city an estimated $172,101 over five years.

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If the City Council approves the change during its meeting Monday night, the city’s commercial waste hauler, a subsidiary of Casella Waste Systems, would begin replacing its current trucks with those that have the side-loading robotic arms that drivers can guide with a joystick.

It would also prepare to hand out 96-gallon waste bins that have wheels and are under warranty. Residents would leave the bins near the street every week with their lids oriented toward the road so that the robotic arm can grab them, tilt them over the truck and empty their contents.

It’s not clear if Casella would lay workers off under the more automated system. A company representative did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

The program would run on Bangor’s current collection schedule and only be available to residents who currently receive curbside trash pickup. Those include single-family homes and other residential properties with four or fewer units.

Casella currently does curbside collection at around 8,500 residential locations in Bangor, according to Bangor Public Works Director Eric Willett. But the city has told Casella it would need to order 14,000 bins since some of those locations have multiple apartment units in them and because new residents could also need them.

All the costs of the upgrade would be included in the annual fees the city pays Casella under a new 10-year contract. If the City Council approves the new approach on Monday night, it would not take effect until July 2020.

The proposed side-loading waste removal would cost the city $713,814 in its first year, which is $33,201 less than the $747,015 it would pay to continue its current program of manual loading, according to a memo from Assistant City Manager Rich Cromwell to the City Council. It would then pay incrementally higher fees over the life of the contract, with potential annual savings of around $48,000 compared with the manual loading system.

The city also pays $70 per ton to send its waste to the new Coastal Resources of Maine waste processing plant in Hampden, although it has had to divert much of its waste to landfills before that facility comes fully online.

[You had questions about what’s going to happen to your trash. Here are the answers.]

At least two other Maine cities, Westbrook and South Portland, already use side-arm loading waste trucks, according to Willett.

Credit: Kevin Bennett

The City Council’s infrastructure committee first discussed the proposal earlier this week. While the committee’s members were generally supportive of the change, they said the city might have to accommodate residents who cannot physically handle the 96-gallon bins or need extra disposal space during certain times of the year, such as after Christmas or during spring cleanup.

Cromwell told the councilors that the city could charge a fee of $5 per week to residents who require a second bin.