TOWNSEND -- Officials are cracking down on violations of Townsend's mandatory recycling bylaw, even searching through the trash of those they suspect are throwing away recyclables.

A recycling enforcement coordinator, a position funded by a Department of Environmental Protection grant through November, is spending 2.5 hours per week searching for violations along the town trash routes.

According to Health Administrator Carla Walter, homes with far more garbage bags than recycling or recycling that contains a cardboard case of beverages, but not the bottles that once filled it are indications that the household may be violating the regulation. Because putting trash out on the curb makes it legally property of the trash-hauling company, searching the garbage is legal, Walter said.

Residents can be given a $100 fine per bag for throwing recycling in their trash. The Board of Health begun the process by sending out warning letters to those they saw who weren't recycling properly.

Just because a household recycles some items doesn't mean that they can put other recyclables in the trash, she said.

"Some people are recycling but they're just not recycling everything," she said.

However, she said the searches are primarily done on those who have received multiple warnings or are obviously violating the mandate.

"We're just not going to pull aside on the side of the road and just open up the trash," Walter said.

Having the enforcement officer on duty could save about 10 percent on the town's trash costs by reducing the amount of trash produced, Walter said.

When the grant for the Recycling Enforcement Coordinator position expires in November, Walter said she hopes the town will continue to fund it, as the grant is nonrenewable. Ideally, she said, the position should be 10 hours a week to do a thorough job.

"Hopefully when the program is done the town's going to see how much the tonnage has decreased, and they'll see how much money they've saved and they would vote in to continue the program," Walter said.

A nonbinding vote to in-state weekly recycling for $71,000 per year failed by a large margin at April's town election, with 1,363 no votes to 400 yes votes.

Starting July 1, the town will also be reducing its garbage limit to 64 gallons.

Those who have more trash than that will be able to purchase overflow bags at Hannaford supermarkets, Apple Meadow Hardware, McNabb Pharmacy and the Red Brick Store. Bags will be sold in packages of five for $10 each, and individual $2 bags can be purchased through the Board of Health.

Walter said she has seen some cases of residents dumping excess trash at vacant houses in the last several weeks. The Board of Health is hoping to meet with the Police Department soon to decide whether to fine those who illegally dump trash for littering under Massachusetts General Law or to create a town ordinance against trash dumping.

Eventually, Walter said she'd like to see the town move toward buying every household a trash tote to minimize confusion on how much trash people can throw away. But at a cost of $250,000 for the totes, she said that program isn't feasible at this time.

Many residents aren't happy with the reduction, saying that for big families, the limits will be difficult to meet.

Resident Mary Alexander said she's concerned that the limits could lead people to dump, bury or burn their trash, opening the town up to infestation of rodents and degradation of air quality.

Alexander has eight children and said that the limits simply are not feasible for her.

"The concept of charging families with children more to dispose of their trash places a burden on those who are trying to raise their children and provide them with health care, an education, food and clothing," Alexander said.

"We are treating people as polluters rather than constituents in need of basic services in the town and doubling down on families and adding to their expenses," she added.

Ashley Knight said she averages close to 90 gallons a week in trash with a family of six, including two young children in diapers. She said finding space to store recycling between bi-weekly collections makes the process tough. 

"Recycling is not exactly hard to do in the scheme of things, and we are going to figure out a way to make it work, but I don't like that it's being forced on us. A few years from now, I could see us being more keen on the whole idea, but at this very moment it's one more thing I have to worry about and I don't appreciate that," Knight said.

Walter said that those who are having trouble recycling can contact the Board of Health for assistance in cutting down on their trash output.

Resident Nathan Buckley said he'd prefer to see the town move toward a pay-as-you-throw system. By paying $1 or $2 per bag, he said, residents will have an incentive to limit their trash. He said he thinks that system would be better received by residents.

"When a government must fine a citizen into compliance, that is an indicator that the system is not wanted. The pay-go system takes care of this entirely. Should I choose to just throw away my recyclables, I will need to pay for additional bags," Buckley said.

Joseph Green said he saw positives to Townsend's system.

"I realize that the town is setting limits for financial reasons, but I believe that an unintended consequence will be that this will eventually cause people to pay attention to how much garbage they produce," Green said.

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