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Plattsburgh Yard Waste Tour Highlights Upcoming Biodegradable Bag Mandate

Starting Friday, the city of Plattsburgh will require that yard waste be disposed of in paper or biodegradable bags. WAMC North Country Bureau Chief Pat Bradley followed a Department of Public Works crew this week as they picked up leaf and yard debris and explained how the change will affect how the waste is processed.

Trash bags are lined up on the curb of Morrison Street in Plattsburgh but the crew of this garbage truck is seeking one type of trash: yard waste. That’s leaves, twigs, compost and other natural detritus homeowners are clearing from their yards as fall approaches.

The two-person team pulls up to a curb that has the currently allowable large clear non-biodegradable plastic bags and piles them behind the truck. Then they start ripping the bags open and dumping the contents into the truck.

Just down the street paper bags full of yard waste sit at the curb. But this time the entire ensemble is thrown into the trash truck.

City of Plattsburgh Maintenance Worker Steve Midgett explains why they opened up the plastic bags but not the paper ones.

“When we bring them up to our facility they go into a compost pile and obviously the plastic bags don’t break down so we have to separate them all out. Except for the paper bags which we can just throw right in the back of the truck because they compost.”

That’s a key reason the city is requiring the switch to biodegradable plastic bags. At the edge of the city there’s an old cement plant property that now contains mountains of mulching materials. Midgett backs the DPW truck up to the pile.

"We’re just going to open the back of the truck and eject all the lawn clippings and grass.”

The truck opens its huge maw and the clippings tumble out.

Plattsburgh Mayor Chris Rosenquest says the city is implementing requirements for either certified biodegradable or craft paper yard waste bags beginning October 1st.

“We gotta get plastic out of the landfill. That’s part of it. We should have probably done it years ago but here we are now trying to play catch up a little bit. The other thing is just the ease of the process," the Mayor says."We have these guys that are riding on the back of this packer, pulling plastic bags, ripping them open, emptying the contents and then stuffing the plastic bag into another plastic bag that’s then going to get disposed of rather than just picking up a biodegradable bag and throwing it in the back. So not only it makes their job easier, quicker, smoother but then it has also that flip side of the environmental aspect of getting plastic out of the waste cycle.”

Department of Public Works officials estimate between 5 and 10 percent of residents are currently using the compostable paper bags compared to plastic. The mayor doesn’t expect an instantaneous switch to using biodegradable plastic.

“We understand that it’s gonna be a process. So part of that is the education. We want to make sure that people are aware that we are making this change first and foremost. And then rather than be punitive and say you know we’re gonna fine you or ticket you for putting plastic out. Well that’s not the case. We’re gonna ease into this process. We still have to figure out what that looks like. If it were up to me it’d be like October 1st it’s done. We’re not picking up plastic. But that’s also not fair.”

Bradley asks, “So no penalties right now?” and Mayor Rosenquest answers, “Not at all. No. I don’t think that’s quite fair.”

The city mixes the resulting mulch with other top soil and sand and uses it around the city when dirt and soil fill is needed.