2018-07-19 / Front Page

Officials warn of recycling fees

By Abigail Worthing Staff Writer

SACO – The public works department is leading a push to reduce recycling contamination. While the ecomaine recycling facility in Portland used to accept loads with up to 20 percent contamination, those limits have been reduced to 4.5 percent. Ecomaine is also now imposing fees onto municipalities according to the level of contamination, with fees increasing for every 5 percent of contamination.

According to ecomaine Communications Director Matt Grondin, the fee has always been in place, but with new restrictions on material that will be accepted by buyers in China, specifically in paper, ecomaine has now had to enforce these fees.

There are more than 7,000 recycling bins picked up weekly in Saco and about 2,000 tons of recycling yearly. As the loads arrive at ecomaine an inspector checks each load as it is collected and sorted, and any sort of contamination within the load will deem the whole load contaminated.

“Every community has its opportunities and challenges when it comes to recycling. No city is perfect, and there’s no primary offender. There’s no perfect city,” Grondin said.

Contaminated items range from a greasy pizza box to yard waste, and can be classified as anything that does not belong in the recycling bin. While general contamination is a problem, the large issue in Saco is blatant contamination, with Public Works Director Patrick Fox citing items such as umbrellas and garden hoses as offending items.

“A big problem we’re dealing with is plastic bags,” Fox said. “People don’t realize that those don’t belong in recycling, they clog up the equipment.”

The fees for contaminated recycling started being enforced in May, after the city budget was finalized, so these unforeseen expenses are not included within public works budget. As the fees escalate by percentage of contamination, if the trend goes uncorrected, the city could face charges of up to $7,000 a month.

“This is significant. We could be facing $85,000 a year,” Fox said.

During the July 9 city council meeting, it was noted that there may be a need for a city employee to go before the truck to check loads prior to them being added to the truck. However, Fox believes such a move isn’t yet necessary.

“Employing someone to sort through the recycling is not a place we want to start. It would require someone out at 4 a.m. to try and pick through home by home,” Fox said. “We believe there are other things that can be done to fix this.”

Part of the plan to fix this problem is forming a solid waste committee to try and improve community outreach, which the public works department plans to form by fall. There will also be a citywide mailing to educate residents on how to best recycle.

To ensure that loads are uncontaminated, items that can, should be rinsed off and cleaned out prior to them going into a bin.

“A good rule of thumb is that if you don’t know if it should go into recycling, don’t put it in recycling,” Fox said. “It’s not worth the entire load becoming contaminated.”

Those who wish to do more research about what can be recycled can reference the “Recyclopedia,” a website through ecomaine.org where one can enter the item of waste to dispose and receive instructions on how to best dispose of it.

While some municipalities have implemented fines on homes that violate contamination parameters, Fox said the city hasn’t reached that need yet. While the goal is to eventually get to zero percent contamination, Fox is optimistic that through outreach, the city will be able to get below five percent contamination soon.

Contact Staff Writer Abigail Worthing at news@inthecourier.com.

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