BREWER, Maine — The amount of trash residents are throwing out for curbside collection has been reduced by half while recycling has quadrupled under two new city programs, Finance Director Karen Fussell said Monday.
City officials expected good numbers under their new zero-sort recycling program, which was put into place in July 2010, and the pay-as-you-throw program, which went into effect in January, but residents exceeded their expectations, Fussell said.
A comparison of January 2010 and January 2011 figures showed big changes, the finance director said.
“We did have a 53 percent reduction in the tonnage, the amount of tonnage picked up curbside, that we sent to PERC,” Fussell said. “Those reductions are a very strong start for the program.”
Brewer sent nearly 231 tons of garbage to the Penobscot Energy Recovery Co. in Orrington during January 2010, and this year, that number dropped to around 109 tons.
At the same time, recycling rates have increased by 424 percent, from 10.25 tons in January 2010 to 53.7 tons last month.
“People are just really recycling more,” Fussell said. “We were extremely pleased with those results. They were beyond our expectations.
The city has a zero-sort drop-off recycling area at the Brewer landfill that also has seen increases in use, she said. In January 2010, residents dropped off around 5.6 tons of recycled goods, and last month, that tonnage rose to just more than 9.9 tons, an increase of 78 percent.
Fussell said the city decided to combine the two programs last year and to kick off the zero-sort recycling program first to educate residents about what can be recycled before they had to begin paying to dispose of their trash.
Under zero-sort recycling, pizza boxes, plastic rotisserie chicken containers, cereal and frozen food boxes, and other items can join the newspapers, milk jugs, glass jars and steel cans Mainers have recycled for decades.
All those items and more go into one container, preferably a plastic trash container marked with a recycling sticker, which is placed curbside on the same day as trash.
“It’s easy,” Fussell said.
Recycling all those items has helped residents reduce the amount of trash that goes to the curb, which is the key to keeping their trash costs low, she said.
Brewer’s pay-as-you-throw program, which went into effect in January, requires residents to purchase and use orange trash bags imprinted with the city’s logo. The pay-as-you-throw bags cost $1.25 for a 15-gallon bag and $2 for a 33-gallon bag.
One resident approached the city during last Tuesday’s City Council meeting asking about the cost of the bags and their quality. City staff explained to her that the cost of the bags pays for the curbside garbage pickup program and that she is not the only person to complain about the strength of the bags.
“We’ve been working with the manufacturer on that,” Fussell said. “We’re considering, with the larger size bags, going with a heavier bag.”
While the January numbers are great, city leaders expect the recycling and trash pickup rates to settle down over the next few months as residents get comfortable with the two programs, she said.
“We are just extremely pleased,” Fussell said. “The residents have been fantastic.”