Bangor council to vote soon on recycling, trash removal changes

Posted June 16, 2011, at 9:49 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — City councilors are expected to vote in about a month on a formal plan that would implement both single-stream recycling and a “pay as you throw” trash removal system in Bangor by January 2012.

For more than two years, city leaders have been discussing changes to the way Bangor handles recycling and trash removal, but they have been reluctant to take action until now.

Councilors met Wednesday to review comments and concerns that were received during three recent public listening sessions and then to offer direction to city staff.

“We were instructed to come forward with a final plan, with all the details and a timeline for implementation,” Bangor City Manager Catherine Conlow said Thursday.

Bangor is vying to become the latest Maine municipality to overhaul its recycling collection and trash removal programs in an effort to boost recycling rates. Other communities, including nearby Brewer, have made changes and have seen rates increase dramatically.

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.

In many cases, single-stream recycling is paired with what’s known as a “pay as you throw” trash removal system, which charges users a small fee for each bag of trash.

Conlow said the initial fee suggested is $1 per bag, but that is subject to change.

“From the city’s perspective, they need to be paired in order to be successful,” Conlow said.

Only a handful of residents turned out for the three listening sessions hosted by councilors and staff in recent weeks. Most were curious about what the changes would look like and when they would be implemented.

However, at least four Maine communities have overturned recycling and trash changes through the citizens referendum process and Bangor leaders are wary of that possibility.

Citizens have initiated recent referendums on a proposed arena, which was overwhelmingly approved by voters last month, and on consolidating emergency dispatch services, which will be voted on in November.

Some have been critical of the trash proposal because it would add a fee for residents but would not decrease taxes.

The recycling and trash changes in Bangor are not expected to have a significant immediate impact on the budget or the city’s property tax rate, but Conlow said there could be minimal savings in the future.

However, the changes are more about long-term planning. Currently, the city pays a 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 that rate is temporary. Bottom line: Bangor is going to pay more for trash removal and that money will need to come from somewhere.

One of the main sticking points for councilors has been to launch an aggressive information campaign to let residents know exactly what the changes mean.

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