Extra Effort by Muniz Ushers in Automated Trash, Recycling Collections
Branford’s new, automated curbside trash and single-stream recycling program has been up and running for one month, but for Paul Muniz, the program has been top of mind for many, many months more than that.
As the chairman of the all-volunteer and selectmen-appointed Solid Waste Management Commission, Paul has led the effort to transform Branford’s curbside hauling program as point-person throughout a complicated process.
Just one accomplishment among many was locking in a rare shared-risk (also known as shared revenue) benefit tied directly to the recycling plant at a time when the costs of recycling are higher to municipalities due to market changes.
What is shared risk? When cardboard, plastic, glass, and other commodities are recycled, the industrial facility then sells them on the open market and reports back to the shared-risk partner how much was earned. Based on a formula of percentage of weight, the facility integrates how much is made for each stream to determine a bottom-line dollar revenue amount. That amount is compared to how much it costs to run the items through the plant. The revenue then offsets the cost of processing. If the revenue is less than the cost of processing, the Town owes a percentage to the vendor (less than the regular expense); and if the vendor makes money, the town receives revenue.
To help to develop a road map leading to the complete overhaul of Branford’s trash and recycling collection program, Paul transferred knowledge from his profession as a geologist with his own company. In his work, Paul leads up municipal and commercial environmental clean-up projects.
“I feel like if I know how to do something or learn something that the community needs, I have a responsibility to offer it. And that’s not just me—I think a lot of people in town do that,” says Paul.
A Branford resident since 1989, Paul served on the Representative Town Meeting (RTM) from 2009 to 2011. He’s also the long-serving president of Hotchkiss Grove Shore District, where he and his wife, Jennifer Marks, raised their children, Alexander and Elena, now grown.
Paul’s Hotchkiss Grove role also included taking the lead on the district’s tremendous need for disaster response following Hurricane Irene in August 2011. Following the conclusion of his RTM term, Paul joined the Solid Waste Management Commission in 2011, becoming commission chair in 2015.
One year after Branford’s renewal of its trash and recycling contracts in 2018 (receiving one bid due to a dearth of contractors), the town’s waste management supervisor position was vacated. During the May 2019 to June 2020 vacancy, Paul stepped up his volunteer assistance in order to help Town Hall. In June 2020, the town’s first sustainability and compliance manager was hired to fill the former supervisor role.
One of the areas Paul helped review was the downturn in Branford’s once-profitable recycling program due to a shift in plastics in the market.
“What happened is that plastic stopped having any revenue value. Recycling was costing three times more than trash,” says Paul.
In addition to discussing the anticipated rising recycling costs with town leaders, Paul and the commission worked to find solutions.
“In March of 2021, I wrote a problem statement for the commission. We needed to find out why we were losing money and why our costs were going up because we were going out to bid in two years. We knew we had to do something to protect the town.”
The statement asked three questions, “...what should we collect, how should we collect it, and what happens to it?”
In August of 2021, with the answers to their questions, the commission recommended hiring a consulting firm to help determine next steps.
“We wanted to do it as a project so that we would do the right thing the right way,” says Paul.
The report, which also incorporated other elements directed at sustainability, was completed in March 2022. Meanwhile, the sustainability and compliance position had become vacant. Paul persevered in leading the project.
“My position was I said I would do this for the town, so I have to do it,” says Paul.
Information the commission mined from the report included a recommendation to go to single-stream recycling due to the change in the market and incorporating shared risk in the contract. However, when the commission looked for shared-risk contractors and vendors to work with, they could not find any and ultimately determined such solutions didn’t exist in the market, says Paul.
“We went out to find shared-risk vendors and found the people who actually collect and process were unresponsive.”
That led the commission to seek further assistance from another consulting firm, which recommended the town switch to cart-based, single-stream, automated curbside collection, with a single price negotiated for all recycling instead of shared-risk.
“That’s how we wrote up the scope of work for RFP, and that went out to bid in December of 2022,” says Paul.
Bids came back in mid-January 2023, about the same time Branford hired its current sustainability and compliance manager, Tyler Bowne. Bowne began working to assist the commission as Paul continued to take the lead on completing the effort to bring in the new program.
During the interview process with potential vendors, reviewing and confirming the returned bids revealed some further complications, Paul notes. In particular, the commission could not get a bidder to provide a single price for recyclables. That led to an interesting twist.
“We took single price out of the contract, so we ended up with renegotiated scope on collection and a separate contract for recycling and processing. And then we went out and negotiated with the recycling facilities—and we got a contract with a shared-risk basis!”
With Branford’s new automated curbside collection start date of July 1, 2023, closing in, another part of the puzzle involved bringing in new carts. During the bidding process, after receiving interest from a company interested in just one component—providing plastic recycling carts—the commission learned from that vendor that The Recycling Partnership (TRP) grants could be obtained to purchase carts that would be owned by the town, instead of the hauler.
“We went to TRP, and we received a grant for $139,000 to help fund the carts and for education,” says Paul. “And in the process of doing the cart carve-out, [finance director] Jim Finch suggested ARPA funds, which were then approved for use by the town.”
The extra effort covered the town’s $900,000 cost to purchase 17,800 carts for the new program.
Now that the program has been up and running for a month, the commission has received its first monthly review of how everything is working out and what residents could do to better assist the process.
“We want to remind residents not to put their carts next to their mailboxes—put them three feet apart from each other or from anything else if you can,” says Paul. “Also, there’s an arrow printed on the top of the carts, and that arrow should be pointing out [to the street] for collection. And if you have a miss, skip, or a complaint, you can call Bozzuto Recycling Service directly. They have a customer service person who’s excellent.”
The number to reach Bozzuto is 203-484-0281; it also appears with a great deal of program information on the town website (www.branford-ct.gov) on the Solid Waste and Recycling page.
When it comes to recycling, Paul says the best advice for what goes into the new, single-stream carts is something heard often in the recycling world, “...when in doubt, throw it out,”—meaning put any questionable recycling into the trash carts, instead.
“There’s the concept of ‘wish-cycling’—if it’s got a recycling symbol on it, it must be something worth recycling. But it often ultimately doesn’t get recycled,” says Paul.
Things such as black plastic take-out containers, blue plastic containers like those holding fresh mushrooms, single-use coffee containers, plastic plates, bowls, and utensils have no market for recycling.
Another key phrase to remember is “caps off,” he adds.
“The caps are a different kind of plastic, so it’s always ‘caps off’ for items like half-and-half containers, broth containers, and plastic bottles.”
For an extended list of all items which should not be recycled, visit the Solid Waste and Recycling page at www.branford-ct.gov