By Ron Leir
During the past few months, town officials have been doing a bit of trash talking to certain property owners but they insist it’s for a good cause.
It seems some landlords and businesses have been tossing household refuse along with bottles, cans and other recyclables into municipal trash receptacles or leaving improperly commingled disposables for curbside pickup.
Either way, that’s a big nono.
The town is also cracking down on residents who leave trash in non-durable supermarket bags, who put out unbundled cardboard, who fail to place recyclables in a separate container or clear plastic bags and who put out trash the wrong day or before 6 p.m.
Mayor Ray McDonough called for a special enforcement campaign by the Board of Health in early March after emerging from Town Hall one day and seeing Harrison Ave. covered in a blizzard of swirling newspapers, cardboard and other debris.
Since March 5, Harrison has issued more than 125 warnings and 10 summonses for various infractions of the town’s property maintenance code and recycling code, according to Christine Madalena-Barton, registered environmental health specialist for Harrison.
Three residential condominium associations were among those receiving warnings, she said.
Stiff penalties can be meted out to proven offenders: Anyone brought to municipal court and found guilty can be socked for a $150 fine for a first offense and even more for repeated violations.
Complicating the war on illicit trash is the fact that Madalena-Barton is currently the only full-time employee in the health department in the wake of the retirement of former health officer Karen Comer and the granting of maternity leave to another employee.
Harrison has contracted for the services of North Bergen Health Officer Richard Censullo to manage and restructure its public health operations.
In the meantime, Harrison’s former fire chief Tom Dolaghan has been delegated by the mayor to lend a hand to Madalena-Barton in helping put a lid on wayward trash.
People who stuff garbage in flimsy, unsecured bags are creating a public health and safety hazard, Dolaghan said. “We’ve had a plethora of skunks, raccoons, possums and cats who rip up these little bags to scavenge for food,” he said.
“Cardboard’s a big problem for us, too,” Dolaghan said. “Some people are leaving out loose pizza boxes or six-pack beer containers and magazines that the wind blows out into the street and the garbage collectors are not here to pick up litter.”
Readily seconding that complaint is Frank Costantino, an employee of Cali Carting, the Kearny firm contracted to pick up Harrison’s trash and recyclables. “The cardboard scatters all over the place,” Costantino said. “If it’s not tied, it’s hard to pick up.”
And, worse yet, the stuff can end up being swept into a corner catch basin and, from there, into a sewer outfall, and then in the river, Dolaghan said. “Not green, not healthy,” he added.
There’s also an economic impact to the indiscriminate mixing of cans and bottles with regular trash. When the carter hauls a load of Harrison garbage to the dump site, the dump operator can – and will – turn it aside if those waste products are improperly commingled. That means an extra trip for the carter, every time he has to bring back a rejected load. It costs Harrison, too, since the town figures to pay more in dumping fees and will forfeit state recycling credits, Dolaghan said.
For 2011, the state credited Harrison with 46,477 tons of recyclables – much higher than the town’s typical output – since 31,000 tons of that total was soil excavated from a construction site at the PSE&G property, according to town records.
Additionally, the town collected 1,000 tons of newspaper, 700 tons of aluminum, 450 tons of glass and 175 tons of cardboard, records show.
Although Madalena- Barton said there’s no way to estimate what percent of the town is complying with the recycling regulations, she and Dolaghan believe “the vast majority” of property owners are practicing what the town is preaching.
Residents are reminded that “all computers, batteries, propane tanks, electronic waste (PC monitors, TVs, cellular phones, etc.) are collected twice a year during April and September” and that they must contact the Public Works Department at (973) 268-2441 “to make arrangements to drop off these items.”
Residents can also call the DPW for information on trash and recyclables pickup schedules.
The public awareness campaign will be an ongoing process, Dolaghan said. “This isn’t a sprint – it’s a marathon.”