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How should Norwalk deal with trash, recycling, and other waste? 

File photo of trash pickup in the city

Across Connecticut, the collecting and hauling of trash and recycling has become a challenge for many communities, including Norwalk, as properly disposing of or reusing those materials has only gotten costlier.

That’s partly why Norwalk hired a consultant, NewGen, to put together a  strategic plan and help the City draft a detailed request for proposals (RFP) for companies looking to bid on trash collection and recycling, and to run the City’s transfer station. The City also put together an advisory committee of municipal staff and council members to be part of the process. 

But as the Public Works Committee of the Common Council advanced a new seven-year contract for provider WIN Waste to do just that, some council members and a local environmental activist are questioning  why the City is signing a new seven-year contract before the strategic plan is complete. 

“We started talking about this more than a year ago, when we decided to extend the current contract, and my understanding at that time was that the waste management plan would come to this committee, it would come to this committee potentially more than once, that we would discuss it, that we would think about strategies before any RFP went out,” council member Nora Niedzielski-Eichner said at the committee meeting in June. 

She said she was concerned about the “failure to update the committee” when the thinking shifted to putting out the RFP first. 

“This is the first time that I understood the RFP was being put out before the waste management plan,” she said. “I understand some of the reasons you wanted to do that, but the whole point of doing this extension [with the current provider] was to allow us to have substantial public conversation about waste management in the City, and I am concerned that doing the RFP first cuts off some of the important parts of that process.”

Diane Lauricella, a Norwalk resident and  environmental activist, said it was her “understanding that we would not be rushing into deciding who our next trash and recycling contractor is.” 

“It’s kind of backwards the way this was done,” she said at the committee’s July meeting. “Usually you do a plan first and then you find a contractor—and it might be that WIN Waste [the selected provider] will fit into your plan…In this case, we’re doing it backwards and I do not see the wisdom of that, professionally speaking.” 

Why the RFP first? 

However, Vanessa Valadares, the City’s chief of operations and public works, said they decided to issue the RFP first for a few reasons. For starters, in case the City had gone a different route and selected a vendor who was not its current provider, by signing the contract in July 2024, that would have given the provider about a year to make sure it had the proper trucks and an understanding of the City’s routes and infrastructure before they took over in July 2025. 

She also said they paused the strategic plan to get a better sense of what different ideas and services might cost. 

“We paused our strategic plan right there because part of that is related to the finances of it,” she told the Public Works Committee at its June meeting. “One thing is identifying what can be beneficial for the City, and the other thing is what is the cost associated with it. With the RFP out, we are trying to really get some of those prices that will help us in the future be able to make those choices.” 

A new contract for WIN Waste

WIN Waste, formerly known as City Carting, has been the City’s trash and recycling collector, and transfer station operator for the past 10 years, according to Valadares. They were also the only company to bid on trash and recycling, and one of just two to bid on operating the transfer station.

Valadares said that’s in part due to the fact they “asked for a lot of requirements” from the companies. 

“One of the concerns we have was that if we had very small companies, they wouldn’t be able to manage our contract,” she said. 

Another issue is that recycling isn’t brought to the City’s transfer station, according to Valadares. Instead, it has to be brought to a specific disposal center.

“WIN Waste, they do have one of those centers in Stamford, so with that, the price for them to dispose and haul is very good,” Valadares said. 

And because WIN Waste was the City’s current provider, it already “has the fleet in place,” Valadares said.

Valadares, along with Chris Torre, the City’s director of operations, and Thomas Szabo, the City’s waste programs manager, said WIN Waste submitted a “very, very solid proposal” that would benefit the City.

“They really addressed everything that came up—what will be their trucking plan, the routes, how they want to really transition—so they are treating this very seriously and really understanding it’s a very new contract,” she said. “There are a lot of things that will start on this contract that are not part of what we are doing now… With this RFP, the City will have the opportunity to change the way that we’re going to be collecting solid waste in the future.”

Valadares said this contract will “give us an opportunity to see how we can make it only more efficient.”

“I think that the way the package was built was really to give us options on how we should deal with the solid waste in the next 10 years,” she said. 

What’s different in this contract?

Valadares said that while “most of the core work is not going to get changed now,”  some new items and changes were included. For starters, the garbage collection is going to include a standardized bin—or what she called a cart—that would allow the collector to use a truck with a machine arm to take the garbage. Right now, there are different size garbage bins so it’s a more manual and slower process.

“The second one is if we’re really going to go City-wide—there are a lot of requests for some areas they would prefer to go with residential solid waste Citywide, with the exception of the Sixth Taxing District,” Valadares said. 

Right now, while recycling is offered Citywide, the Fourth Taxing District is the only one that receives City trash collection. The earliest that would happen would be July 2027, but she said the idea was included in the RFP so they would be able to get a price for that and bring it to the Common Council and the public for a discussion. 

The contract also eliminates an opt-out for residents of the Fourth Taxing District. 

“What we learned after doing a lot of research is that a lot of people that actually opt out still put their trash outside,” Valadares said, which can make it “hard for the driver to know” which houses are opted in and which are not. “If we eliminate that option, it will make it fair to everyone.”

In addition, the provider will be required to come up with ideas to reduce contamination in recycling, and there will be check-ins every six months to see where the problem areas are; ways to expand composting; more data reporting requirements, and an item about conducting capital improvements to the transfer station itself. 

Finally, it would also allow the potential for changing how residents are charged for garbage services—they could look at charging by how much solid waste is put out instead of a flat rate for everyone.”

Should the strategic plan have come first? 

Despite the positives cited by City officials, Niedzielski-Eichner questioned signing a seven-year contract before the strategic plan was done and before there was a more robust public conversation around this issue. Lauricella was the only member of the public to speak at the committee’s meeting. 

“I very much understand the factors you are concerned about. I understand a number of the issues that you raised about this last time,” Niedzielski-Eichner said. “But the purpose of a committee like this is to allow the public to understand some of the thinking that goes into these kinds of decisions and structures. And I do think that a number of these issues would have benefited from some public conversation before we went down any of these roads.”

Niedzielski-Eichner said it  was “disappointing” to be presented with a single bid for “something that’s substantial for the City.” 

“Process matters, and it is important that our residents have an opportunity to review major City services before long-term commitments are made, and that this committee and this council have an opportunity to weigh in on significant City investments,” she said. “And also to really honor when we tell people that we’re going to have some process and some conversation about something to do that. I think that is an important part of our commitment as well.”

However, council member Jim Frayer, chair of the Public Works Committee, and council member Barbara Smyth, both of whom are on the advisory committee for the waste strategic plan, said they believed this was the right move. 

“Based on their proposal, I do agree it was, it was very impressive and very comprehensive,” Smyth said. “And they addressed everything around solid waste, around recycling. They had a lot of data that I found reassuring and quite impressive.”

Frayer said he believed some of the information and reporting would help the City “make more decisions to do this job even more efficiently and more economically and environmentally safer.”

“I really applaud the approach that Ms. Valadares and her team took on this thing—it was not easy,” he said. “There was a lot of hard work that went into it, but there was a lot of really forward thinking and being smart enough to identify information that we’re going to get from [WIN Waste] that we didn’t have yet and we will have in the future.”

The committee voted 5-2, with Niedzielski-Eichner and council member Dajuan Wiggins opposed, to advance the contracts to the Common Council for a final vote at its next meeting on Tuesday, July 9. NewGen will also be continuing its work on the waste management strategic plan, officials said.

Comments

3 responses to “How should Norwalk deal with trash, recycling, and other waste? ”

  1. Tysen Canevari

    Welcome to Norwalk! Nora and her comrades at the Norwalk Common Council waste too much time on passing ordinances like banning back packs that no one will abide by. Matters that actually need attention aren’t reviewed. Can you imagine extending a contract seven years and then hiring an outside consultant! Thats like signing Derek Jeter for 7 more years and then having the medical people give him a physical! You cant make it up people!!!

  2. Elsa Peterson Obuchowski

    This sentence is potentially confusing, if not misleading: “Right now, while recycling is offered Citywide, the Fourth Taxing District is the only one that receives City trash collection.”
    Readers wouldn’t be wrong to say, “Oh, but I live in the [First…Second…Third] Taxing District and I have City trash collection!”
    That is because the Fourth Taxing District, as specified in the City Charter, is “… the territory of the City as is included in the First, Second and Third Wards, together with such additional territory situated in the Fourth or Fifth Wards as may at any time hereafter be designated, defined and specified by the Common Council…” See Article XII, “The Taxing Districts,” in the City Charter: https://ecode360.com/44899448#44899448
    Correct me if I’m wrong, but my understanding is that the Fourth Taxing District is essentially overlaid over the First, Second, and Third Taxing Districts.
    While we’re at it: the charter states that the Fifth Taxing District equals the entire City of Norwalk, so it is overlaid over all the other taxing districts, including the already-overlaid Fourth.

    1. Stephen Keogh

      While there may be some exceptions (in Norwalk, there always are…), as a general and historical matter, the Fourth Taxing District, is, in fact, an overlay district, defined by one simple characteristic. The Fourth Taxing District is the area of Norwalk that has sewers. It has been one of Norwalk’s more interesting historical quirks that if you have sewer service, the City picks up your non-recycling trash. If you don’t, you’re on your own.

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