2017-11-16 / Front Page

Saco eyes makover

By Grant McPherson
Staff Writer

SACO – Saco Public Works Director Patrick Fox hopes to establish a new committee by December to address the city’s recycling program, which he says has much room for improvement, and could include a pay-per-bag program.

Once new city councilors have been sworn in, Fox would like to form the Saco Solid Waste and Recycling Committee. Members could be drawn from the school department, the public and other boards and commissions to discuss the environmental benefit and cost of solid waste disposal and recycling. Fox said trash and recycling is the most expensive task of public works, comprising $1.2 million annually. The adopted fiscal year 2017 budget for the public works department was just less than $6.3 million.

The conservation commission met Monday, Nov. 6 to discuss, among many things, what could be done to enhance the city’s recycling efforts.

“Last meeting we started exploring options for the city to encourage expanding our recycling,” Fox said. “Anything we can do to expand awareness of the programs and address the cost we’d like to put more focus on over the next couple years. We could create some benefit for the community.”

Fox said if Saco could increase the amount it recycles by 10 percent, the city could save $60,000 per year. Ecomaine, a Portland based waste management service, charges the city $80 per ton for trash disposal, whereas recycling is accepted at no charge. According to Ecomaine’s website, Saco has a population of 18,482 and had 5,318 tons of municipal solid waste in fiscal year 2017. Scarborough, which has a population of 18,919, had 5,852 tons of solid waste in the same time period. But Scarborough had 2,422 tons of recycling, compared to Saco’s 1,686.

“A step that’s often overlooked, or people aren’t using so much in the first place, is eliminating some waste generation at the source,” Fox said. “This eliminates or reduces the need to recycle.”

Another problem the conservation commission recognized was the public works department does not offer trash and recycling pick up for apartment buildings with seven or more units. Commission member Thomas Klak said oftentimes there is no option to recycle for tenants in these buildings and residents feel bad throwing away recyclable material. The commission is working with city officials to find out how many of these types of buildings are in the city.

“In this day and age you shouldn’t be putting everything in the trash,” Klak said. “Our goal would be to have more recycling weight, get it up over 50 percent. We’re not doing very well on that.”

Saco produces 6,800 tons of municipal solid waste per year. It would be possible to change the city ordinance to establish trash and recycling pick-up for larger apartment buildings, but Fox said it’s not likely due to cost constraints. Fox has not yet researched what the cost might be. Another possibility would be to implement a pay-per-bag system, which would incentivize using as few trash bags as possible.

“I would like to think we can improve recycling through educational efforts,” Fox said. “It’s a more convenient place to start for residents. An easy short term goal for residents to gauge how they’re doing is have their brown curbside recycling container be full each week and their green one to have one or two trash bags in it. Under the current system we see the trash overflowing and people not even putting recycling out to the curb.”

Saco passed an ordinance in May that banned singleuse plastic bags and was officially enforced as of Oct. 1. For businesses that use plastic bags, there is a fine of $250 for the first violation within a one-year period and $500 for subsequent violations. Code Enforcement Officer Richard Lambert said there is an 86 percent compliance rate for businesses in Saco. Plastic bags cannot be disposed of in either the green or brown curbside carts as they often jam sorting machinery and are typically too wet or dirty to be recycled. The ordinance affects every licensed business in Saco.

Recycling is also mandatory under the city’s current solid waste ordinance. Single family homes have a choice between a 35 or 65 gallon green trash and brown recycling cart. Residents can request another cart subject to approval by the Public Works Department. Public works staff will allow an additional cart if residents pass a two-week inspection. If unnacceptable items such as yard waste are oversized material are found in the carts, then the request will be denied. Multiunit buildings with six units or fewer receive between four and six carts, depending on the number of units. Residents can purchase excess trash bags at the Public Works Facility, $5 per bag. Other than that, nothing outside of the green and brown carts will be picked up.

“People think it’s a hassle but we have to take a stance sometimes,” Klak said. “Damage from plastic in the environment doesn’t go away for hundreds of years. It’s a really important rule change to cut down on plastics in the environment worldwide. With a coastal economy and society we have to do what we can to reduce the amount of plastic that ends up in the ocean. Everybody should worry about the environmental condition of marine life no matter where you live.”

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