VENTNOR — It’s not just the start of summer that has awakened this shore town.
New, 95-gallon waste carts meant to keep the streets clean have sparked social media outrage in the community, spurring heated online arguments over their size, cost and unusual RFID tracking feature.
The back-and-forth devolved into chaos last week when one snarky Facebook commenter Photoshopped the infamous picture of former Gov. Chris Christie lounging in a beach chair onto one of the blue containers.
“Too big and heavy even empty. At barely 5 foot and 71, I struggled,” one person wrote.
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The hefty, lidded carts with wheels, given out two weeks ago, are meant to encourage more recycling, prevent gulls from attacking scraps and stop garbage from blowing into the ocean and bay. Using carts instead of cans is “the new best practice” in waste collection and already seen in a number of Atlantic County towns, said Atlantic County Utilities Authority President Rick Dovey.
And what they cost taxpayers will eventually be offset by savings in tipping fees, Ventnor officials hope.
But one person’s treasure is another person’s trash.
Some older residents and those without backyards haven’t been pleased with the roll-out.
On Tuesday morning, David Berman stood side by side with his two new carts, which rival his height.
Berman, 79, who lives in a Berkshire Drive townhouse, has been storing the containers on the side of his neighbor’s house since they were delivered earlier this month. The only space on his property to fit the cans, he says, is on his back deck, but he’d have to descend steps and lug it around his block on pickup days.
“It’ll break my back if I do that,” he said.
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Berman and his neighbors previously shared trash cans. Most on his block, he said, are part-timers who don’t collect much waste. But now, every townhouse has two containers, and there’s little space to store them.
“There’s just no place to put them,” he said. “Right now, mine are parked at my neighbor’s house and his are in his back patio.”
City Hall has fielded 30 to 40 complaints from residents about the enormity of the bins, said Business Administrator Maria Mento. On June 18, the Ventnor Democratic Club is holding a meeting at the library to let residents ask questions about the cans.
Public works is looking at offering smaller, 60-gallon containers to residents on a property-by-property basis.
The director of public works would visit individual houses and determine whether smaller carts are needed. Whether residents or the city would pay the cost is not known yet.
“We’re waiting for a smaller cart sample,” Mento said. “Initial calculations said they’d fit, but for some in townhomes and condos, they don’t. ... We told those people to give it a month or so.”
The city is distributing about 5,300 carts to replace the old trash and recycling cans that didn’t have lids.
Each recycling cart is about $44 and each trash cart is $51, but $7 per recycling container is being covered by a grant. In total, Mento said, taxpayers will foot a $514,000 bill for the initiative over a seven-year contract signed with the ACUA.
But that cost may be offset by what the city saves in tipping fees, she said. In Vineland, which did the same in 2016, there was a 20% reduction in the amount of material entering the Cumberland County landfill.
For every ton that’s put in the blue bins rather than thrown in the garbage, the municipality avoids $62 in tipping fees, Mento said. Last year, she said, the city paid $270,000 in fees, and could save about $54,000 annually if recycling spikes dramatically.
Commercial collections are also being discontinued to save money.
“The mere size of them encourages people to recycle more,” Mento said. “For every ton that’s recycled, we’re not paying that tipping fee. ... Landfills are not infinite spaces, so if we can recycle, why bury it?”
Brigantine and Buena Vista Township reported a 10.2% and 6.6% increase in recycling, respectively, about a year and a half after distributing the carts in 2016.
And while change hasn’t come easy in Ventnor, some residents are finding creative uses for the new carts on weekends, when parking spots are a commodity.
Police received calls on Memorial Day about the containers being used to block spaces, said Chief Doug Biagi. He expects the uproar to die down soon.
“This week it’s the cans, next week it’ll be something else,” he said. “It goes in phases.”
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The idea to update waste collection came about two years ago after the mayor visited Hammonton and noticed their orderly collection system, Mento said. The large bins have been used there for more than 10 years.
For a barrier island surrounded by water, it’s also a way to cut down on plastic and trash polluting the waters. An RFID tracking device is attached to each bin, along with a serial number, in case it is stolen.
The environmental impact hasn’t been lost on residents.
Chris Beach, who lives in a house on Winchester Avenue, applauded the city’s effort to reduce pollution, and said she has had no issues so far.
“It can hold a lot of stuff, those big detergent jugs and huge boxes,” she said. “It’s good to recycle, and these can hold more.”