Wilton is wasting good karma because of the not-so-good way the public is dealing with waste. Now town officials are urging residents to pay better attention to how they dispose of garbage at public facilities, and warning that the alternative could be much more costly to the town.

At their meeting last night, members of Wilton’s Board of Selectmen discussed the town’s current waste management policy of “Carry In, Carry Out,” something that was officially implemented at town properties and facilities last year. The town no longer provides trash cans in order to encourage people to take any trash with them when they leave.

First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice opened the discussion by announcing how much garbage was collected at the town-wide cleanup on April 28:  3,200 pounds of garbage was picked up and removed from the sides of town roads and river banks. That amount of garbage demonstrates that Wilton still has a ways to go toward keeping the town clean.

“All that litter is an indicator that we need to remind people about our Carry In, Carry Out policy and our efforts to reduce littering in the community,” Vanderslice said.

Vanderslice noted that there has been some recent public comment on social media about whether the Carry In, Carry Out policy is working. Some residents have complained about trash left at fields and town parks, and others have wondered why the town no longer provides trash cans.

She pointed out that state law mandates that towns must provide a recycling receptacle with every regular trash container it provides–something that would sharply increase the cost and time it took to collect all the waste.

What made the problem even worse was that people would cross contaminate the recycle waste with non-recyclable trash.

“It wasn’t achieving the objective. You had two choices:  it may be 10% contamination and 90% recyclables–you either dump it with the regular trash or pick through it. So we discontinued that,” Vanderslice explained. The town continues to see contamination with the few recyclable containers that remain. She pointed to trash cans at Schenck’s Island, where the recyclable trash can is often the place where dog walkers throw away their dog waste. “Even though it’s marked, people are still misusing the recycling container.”

“That happened the first day we put them out,” added Steve Pierce, director of Parks and Recreation, the department that collects most of the garbage at town parks and facilities.

The town is responsible for making sure whatever recyclable trash it does collect doesn’t contain any non-recyclable contaminants.

“We haul our recyclables to a recycling center, and that load cannot be contaminated. We have to put the efforts into sorting and finding illegal items. We get fined [if we don’t] and we want to be able to continue to bring these [recyclables] there,” she explained.

Vanderslice said the public abused the service in another way, too.

“It’s important for people to know that when we had the trash cans out there, we had people who brought their household waste to those trash cans. That’s illegal, but people did it. Steve has found people doing it–it wasn’t because they had some economic need and couldn’t afford to go to the transfer station. For whatever reason it was easier to go to Allen’s Meadow and dump their household trash there.”

Instead, the town decided to “raise awareness and encourage responsible behavior.” They have left a few recyclable containers and regular trash cans, located at the concession stands at the high school stadium and the Middlebrook softball field, and officials hope the public will throw things away responsibly.

“We want everyone to do their part. I don’t know why, when they’re next to each other, it’s not a lot of effort to put it into the right can. It’s disrespectful to the town employees, it’s disrespectful to your fellow residents, and it costs all of us more time and money. Everyone would rather have [town maintenance crews] working on the fields and the tennis courts, rather than sorting through contaminated recyclable containers,” Vanderslice said.

For the most part officials hope the public will be better about following the Carry In, Carry Out policy–because it works.

“Since we went to Carry In, Carry Out, there is actually less trash being left at the fields,” Vanderslice said.

The impact is tangible in cost too.

“Prior to this law, we were spending 22% of our man hours of our five guys. That’s one full-time guy per week doing nothing but trash–and that’s excluding the recycling. We didn’t see any way to this other than Carry In, Carry Out, from a financial perspective and a workforce perspective,” Pierce said.

He also noted that when his department hears about trash left behind at individual fields after sporting events, he’ll reach out to the particular youth sports organizations, which have been cooperative about going back and cleaning up the mess their teams or spectators have left behind.

“When we see something, we say something,” Pierce said, adding that people should also refrain from leaving garbage in the portable toilets as well.

Officials say the effort is still a work in progress, and it will take time to continue raising public awareness about Carry In, Carry Out.

Vanderslice acknowledged that the town will continue to work on education and awareness. There are plans to partner with the Keep America Beautiful organization and to implement other initiatives, but she hopes that the public will do more.

“At the end of the day, the different residents and sports organizations need to take responsibility for that. The majority of sports organizations and the vast majority of residents are doing that, but if 10% don’t or even 5%, any contamination is contamination. We want to remind everyone to help out in this effort,” she said.