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

Trucks with automated arms on their sides will start collecting trash and recycling from Bangor residents next July. And residents who receive curbside pickup will leave their trash and recycling in uniform plastic bins distributed by the city.

The new system, which the City Council approved this week in a 6-2 vote, would save the city an estimated $172,101 over five years by removing the labor that’s required for workers to manually empty barrels of waste into the backs of trucks.

Instead, the city’s commercial waste hauler, a subsidiary of Casella Waste Systems, will deploy new trucks that have a robotic arm on the side that can grab the uniform plastic bins, lift them overhead and empty their contents. The waste bins will be under warranty and have wheels that allow them to be pulled to the curbside.

[Bangor could soon have trucks with robotic arms collecting residents’ trash]

Councilors Gibran Graham and Cary Weston both said they see the merits of the new system, but voted against the change because they think the city needs more time to iron out its details and accept input from residents.

However, the council did not postpone the vote because Casella Waste Systems required the city to commit to a new 10-year contract with the favorable terms by the end of this month.

All the costs of the upgrade will now be included in the new contract. The city will pay $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. The annual costs will then go up incrementally over the life of the contract.

The council originally agreed to look into the new system in late June when it approved its current five-year contract with Casella that eliminated every-other-week collection of recyclables. The city has moved to a new collection schedule in which residents mix their recycling and trash so that it can be separated at a new waste facility in Hampden.

At the council meeting this week, some residents expressed concern that the default size of the new waste bin, 96 gallons, would be too unwieldy for the elderly and residents with physical disabilities. Jim Dunning, a Casella official who attended the meeting, said that the company could work with the city to provide smaller bins to residents who need them.

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Some city councilors said that the city has not done an effective job informing Bangor residents about the recent move to mixed waste collection and that it will have to work hard to publicize the next big shift to plastic bins and automated trucks.

The new program would continue to run on Bangor’s waste 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. For properties with two to four units, each unit would receive its own bin.

The city is also considering providing extra disposal space for free to residents at certain times of the year when more waste is generated, such as around the holidays. For residents that want a second 96-gallon bin to accommodate all their waste, the city may charge a fee of roughly $5 per week.