June 20, 2018
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Listening sessions set for recycling, trash changes in Bangor

By Eric Russell, BDN Staff

BANGOR, Maine — City councilors will hold the first of three public listening sessions this week to discuss proposed major changes to the recycling and trash removal programs in Bangor.

For more than a year, the city has been discussing adopting what is known as single-stream recycling coupled with a pay-as-you-throw system for rubbish collection. The changes would require significant initial investment on the city’s part and also would require taxpayers to pay a small fee for their trash bags.

The single-stream recycling and pay-as-you-throw combination has been implemented successfully in dozens of communities across the state, but it is has not always been met with positive reaction.

“In order for an effort like this to succeed, it takes a lot of public education,” said Councilor Geoff Gratwick, who for years has been the council’s representative on the city’s recycling committee. “At least three towns have voted down changes like this because there was not enough outreach.”

The first listening session will be held at 7 p.m. Thursday, May 12, at the William S. Cohen School. Additional sessions are scheduled for 7 p.m. Monday, May 16, at City Hall and at 7 p.m. Tuesday, May 24, at James F. Doughty School. Residents also can send thoughts or opinions to feedback@bangormaine.gov.

Single-stream recycling allows residents to put all their recyclables, approximately 25 different materials, together in one receptacle without sorting. The method is convenient and has proved to be effective in boosting recycling rates, but it also requires a financial investment.

That’s where a bag fee comes in. Municipalities charge residents a small fee to purchase trash bags, or sometimes tags, and then use some of that revenue to offset increased costs. A new fee also creates an added incentive to recycle because, in theory, residents throw away less when they have to pay for it.

The city now pays a per-ton fee for trash disposal at the Penobscot Energy Recovery Co. in Orrington, which burns trash to produce electricity. Bangor, along with many other communities, enjoys a favorable rate from PERC, but by 2018 that rate is expected to rise considerably.

That means, whether through a bag fee or through taxes, Bangor residents are going to pay more for trash removal in the future.

Some residents, however, already have threatened to initiate a referendum that would allow voters to have a say on any proposed changes to recycling and trash removal. As with any other referendum, petitioners would need to gather more than 2,200 signatures to force a citywide vote.

Gratwick said he hopes people will work hard to educate themselves on a topic that the city has been discussing for years.

“This isn’t just another hidden tax increase and this is not something the council is ramming down people’s throat,” he said. “We all have a part in this.”

Although the city is considering changes, City Manager Catherine Conlow said there are no large program or service changes reflected in the proposed 2011-12 budget.

Gratwick said the two biggest questions the city needs help answering are: When should the changes be implemented and what should the bags cost?

Some councilors, though, are not 100 percent convinced that the public listening sessions will be helpful.

“Public listening sessions fail. I’m not against it, but does it work?” Cary Weston said at a meeting earlier this year. “Until something stops working, people don’t pay attention. We’re not going to hear from people until their trash is left at the end of their driveway.”

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