May 27, 2018
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No need to change Bangor’s recycling system

By Jay Dresser, Special to the BDN

The city council plans to vote this month on single-stream recycling and pay-as-you-throw.  As a former Bangor Recycling Committee member, I thought it might be it useful to area citizens to pass on what information I have accumulated over the years. First, an overview of what we do now.

Bangor has a fully operational drop-off collection facility on Maine Avenue. Behind the collection stalls is a large warehouse-type building that processes and bales recyclables for greater Bangor area residents and 31 communities and seven commercial haulers. The drop-off, curbside and processing operation employs four to six local residents.

Bangor’s current method of collection results in a clean, quality baled product for the recyclable commodities market.  Maine Resource Recovery Association of Bangor (more local jobs) finds markets for our recyclables in the United States, Canada and beyond. During my four-year tenure on the recycling committee, we saw an average of over $300,000 per year in gross revenue to the city from the sale of cardboard, tin, glass, newspaper, No. 2 plastic and office paper.

The pros and cons of our current operation are:

• the retention of local jobs
• pre-sorting ensures a clean, quality product for the recycling market
• the cost of maintaining baler and recycling truck
• and the $300,000 will go away if we go single-stream, for as far as I have learned, the city does not plan to keep Maine Avenue open.

With single-stream, all recyclables go into one bin. Although easier for the household,  it creates a contaminated product. I understand that as much as 20 percent waste is created by mingling recyclables. Broken glass and food waste do not mix well with clean office paper and newspaper.

With single-stream, our recyclables aren’t processed locally, but shipped down the interstate hundreds of miles, and that 20-percent-contaminated waste gets handled and could be shipped back to Juniper Ridge Landfill in Old Town or an incinerator in Massachusetts or Maine. Those jobs lost at Maine Avenue will be assumed by someone picking contaminants on a conveyor belt at Eco-Maine in Southern Maine or Casella’s sorting plant in Auburn, Mass., depending on who the city contracts with.

Pros and cons of single stream:

• an increase in recycling rates, possibly 2 percent according to the Maine State Planning Office
• contaminated product
• high transportation costs to  transport recyclables to southern Maine or out of state.
• trucking contaminated recycling waste back to Maine
• expensive to implement, such as the cost of new recycling bins
• materials haulers get recyclables for free with no cash compensation to the recycler

As to pay-as-you-throw, why should the Bangor taxpayer pay an additional fee that is already included for free in his or her tax bill?

This is what I recommend: Keep Maine Avenue open and continue with the current pre-sort, curbside operation we have now. Lease Maine Avenue to a private-public enterprise and construct and lease at least one more drop off facility to a private-public enterprise.

Implement a cash reimbursement program to the recycler. Implement a public awareness campaign that these programs exist. Due to the fact that sale of commodities is not high enough yet, such an operation may need to be subsidized by taxpayer dollars from the 90-member community. Our contract with the incinerator expires in 2018; this is one possible seven-year plan.

Jay Dresser of Bangor is a former member of the city’s recycling committee.

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