By Keith Edwards, CentralMaine staff
CentralMaine news story
AUGUSTA, Maine — The city could offer residents single-stream recycling, in which users don’t have to separate different types of recyclables from each other, for as little as $10,400 a year.
Lesley Jones, public works director, told city councilors who discussed the proposal as part of efforts to improve recycling options, the city could contract with Eco-Maine, a Portland area waste and recyclables firm, to place single-stream drop off containers at the public works department off North Street and Hatch Hill landfill.
Having a single such container at public works would cost the city about $10,400 a year; having one there and one at Hatch Hill, where Jones anticipates the use would be higher, could cost about $41,600 a year.
The Hatch Hill container would be shared with all users of the facility, which takes waste and recyclables from several area communities. The cost of that container thus would not directly come from the city’s budget, as it would come from the Hatch Hill budget which is funded by all users.
City councilors agreed Thursday to have city staff contact Eco-Maine to explore the possibility of trying some single-stream drop-off recycling for a half-year, with a projected cost to the city of about $5,200, and report back to councilors.
“A six-month trial program to test our assumptions and see what sort of response we get,” City Manager William Bridgeo said. “If residents respond overwhelmingly, that says something. It says something if they don’t, too.”
In single-stream recycling, users don’t have to sort their various recyclables. Instead, they can put all recyclable items such as cardboard, glass and plastic together into one container. The container is then hauled off, for a fee, and its contents are sorted off-site to be recycled separately. Recyclables still would have to be separated from household, nonrecyclable trash.
The cost to the city would be $200 for each load of recyclables taken to Eco-Maine’s facility.
For several years, some Augusta residents have urged the city to find ways to increase and improve recycling in the city.
Jones said having city crews pick up more recyclables as part of the regular curbside trash pickup would require significant infrastructure investments — for balers, containers and other items — and would require further study. In the meantime, however, she said the city could start improving recycling by offering residents single-stream containers in the city where they could drop off their recyclables.
“One of the primary reasons we haven’t expanded our curbside program is cost-driven. It would require a major investment, and given the tight budgets we’ve had the last five to eight years,” it hasn’t been feasible, Jones said. “But through our recent research, we’ve come up with a couple of solutions we think could be implemented fairly inexpensively.”
Councilors expressed interest in the proposal at their informational meeting Thursday, directing the city staff to look into it further.
“I’m very interested. I’d like to see us further crunch the numbers,” said Ward 2 Councilor Darek Grant.
Jones and other officials visited the recycling center in Hallowell and Riverside Disposal’s Chelsea site, and they collected information about a new pay-as-you-throw rubbish and curbside single-stream collection program recently instituted in Waterville.
Some towns, such as Manchester and Richmond, already offer single-stream recycling to their residents.
Bridgeo said Eco-Maine normally requires municipalities to sign a three-year contract to avoid potentially being charged an additional tipping fee to use its facility. But Jones said she would see if Eco-Maine would consider a six-month pilot project with Augusta.
Jones said 21 percent of the recyclables the city collects now are dropped off at public works, where a limited number of sorted recyclable materials are accepted.
City crews also pick up recyclables curbside, but Jones noted that use of that service is limited partly because residents have little incentive to recycle. Without a pay-as-you-throw program, she said, it doesn’t cost residents any more to throw items away than it does to separate their recyclables.
She said it is hard to estimate how much recyclable material the city would get in the proposed single-stream containers. The cost estimates used to come up with the $10,400-a-year figure assumed people would bring 75 tons of recyclables to public works, and the $41,600-a-year figure assumed the same 75 tons at public works plus 225 tons a year at Hatch Hill.