It's a fall morning in Sheridan as orange and yellow leaves are blowing around the streets. The sun is shining, there's a little chill in the air, and I'm out collecting garbage.
Solid waste operator Tony Trangmoe is taking me in his truck as he goes through his normal Friday collection route. He's driving through skinny alleys and his truck is picking up giant trash cans with a mechanical arm and dumping the contents in to be smashed and hauled away to the landfill.
This is like any other trash collection route in Sheridan, but soon, that's going to change. Starting on November 1, Sheridan will begin a pilot 'pay-as-you-throw' program to see if it can improve its waste diversion. This neighborhood will be a part of that study.
"'Pay-As-You Throw' is metered trash collection and it just treats that utility like all the others. The more trash you throw away, the more you pay. The less you throw away, the less you pay," said Sheridan City Councilman Jacob Martin, who proposed the idea to the City Council.
The goal of the study is to see if residents start recycling more, and lower the amount they put in the garbage. Throwing away less means residents can save money on their solid waste bill.
Martin said he's always been interested in sustainability and thought 'pay-as-you throw' would help Sheridan become more environmentally friendly.
"It fit really well that already had a lot of the pieces in place that make the program effective. So, one of those is curb-side recycling, we already have that. We have a great team at the landfill. And the recycling center needs some capital improvements, but, overall it's really well ran," he said.
Sheridan Utilities Director Dan Roberts said they designed the program to be structured by the size of trash can. For the pilot program, residents will have three options to choose from.
So a 35-gallon container, a 65-gallon container and a 95-gallon container. And the 95- [gallon] is by comparison the standard cart, we call them, cart size. People have a choice to stay with the standard cart size, or they can reduce to one of the smaller ones," Roberts said.
He said the idea is that the smaller cans will cost less and save residents money.
The pilot area includes 729 households in the southwest part of Sheridan that covers a range of demographics. Roberts said the city has received around 500 responses to surveys sent out to the pilot area.
A little more than 20 percent of homes are opting for the smallest containers. Another 23 percent are choosing the medium size. The rest--including people who haven't responded--will get the standard 95-gallon container.
Roberts said residents in the area will have the option to sign up for the program at any point during the pilot. They will also be able to switch out containers. For example, if a household isn't filling the 65-gallon container every week, they can ask the city to switch it out for a 35-gallon container.
The neighborhood that solid waste operator Trangmoe is collecting in on this day has 300-gallon trash cans that are shared between three homes. He said that can lead to people filling the cans up with branches, grass clippings and other waste that isn't meant to go to the landfill.
"A lot of times when people have 300-gallon cans, they'll put pallets and building material and leaves, stuff that go in other bins we have around town for that. It's garbage to them so they'll just stick in there," he said.
"But if you have small can, now you're not going to be able to do that. You can't stick a pallet in those."
Trangmoe added that some people in town might not have a way to haul their green waste to dumpster around town or the landfill.
He said the pilot program will benefit those who take advantage of green waste dumpsters and other solid waste and recycling programs.
Sheridan resident Joe Mentock lives in the pilot study area. He said he's excited for the program to start and thinks it will help promote recycling in town.
"Overall yes, I'm for it. We're going to go to the mid-size and it will be our responsibility," he said.
But a point of concern is the program's cost. If 'pay-as-you throw' was approved, it would take years to fully roll-out all over town, Roberts said. The city would have to buy new trash cans for residents. The recycling center would need improvements to handle the potential increase recycling.
The long-term goal of the program is to lower the amount of trash sent to the landfill. That will save space, and ultimately, money.
The city is projecting it would cost around $280,000 dollars over five years annually to seriously increase Sheridan's waste diversion numbers overall. But that calculation accounts for instituting 'pay-as-you throw', an organics collection program the city is also testing and other improvements.
Councilman Aaron Linden said he was skeptical of the program at first primarily because of the cost. But then he realized that expanding the landfill costs even more.
"If we can extend its life for 10 years, I mean, that saves us more than we are going to put into in the first five years," he said.
In the weeks leading up to the pilot study, the city has been collecting baseline data to see what people are throwing away in the pilot area already and how much. Eventually they'll use that data to see if there's been waste diversion.
So far, they've learned that 7 percent of waste going to the landfill is recyclable, and that they'd like to see that number go down.
Linden said it's hard to gauge right now how and how much a 'pay-as-you-throw' program would benefit the city and that they'll have to wait to see how the data and projected costs would shake out.
The program begins in November and will run for six months. Roberts said his department will crunch those numbers and report back to the City Council at the end of the pilot study.
Have a question about this story? Contact the reporter, Catherine Wheeler, at firstname.lastname@example.org.