BIDDEFORD, Maine — It’s back to the drawing board for the Solid Waste Management Commission. On Tuesday, the City Council directed the commission to develop proposals to increase Biddeford’s recycling rate by 30 percent.
Since 1996, the commission and Public Works Department have developed more than half a dozen proposals to increase the city’s recycling rate using curbside recycling pickup.
The most recent plan to institute curbside recycling was considered by the council in 2009. However, when the cost of the program increased with the economic downturn, no action was taken.
Since then, the commission has attempted to increase the recycling rate through low- or no-cost methods without significant effect.
According to commission Chairman Paul Therrien, the city’s recycling rate has remained constant for many years.
The city’s recycling rate is now slightly more than 7 percent. It produces about 8,500 tons of solid waste and approximately 700 tons of recyclable material, according to figures provided by Public Works.
Therrien, who has been down this road more than once, suggested that before the commission deliberates on this issue again, the city have a referendum question during the June election asking residents whether they are interested in increasing the recycling rate.
If they vote yes, he said, the commission could come up with proposals and hold another referendum during the November election asking whether residents approve a recycling plan, which, more than likely, will have a cost associated with it.
Most councilors said they might be in favor of a single referendum, once the commission develops a proposal, but not two.
City Councilor David Flood said without a proposal, voters wouldn’t have enough information to make an informed decision.
Mayor Alan Casavant said he thought the recycling issue is tied with the question of how to deal with the Maine Energy Recycling Co. incinerator in the downtown.
The facility is viewed as a blight on the city; it is blamed by some for the lack of development of the city’s downtown. Many favor removing the facility or at least mitigating some of the problems, such as odor, related to the incinerator.
Since the city’s five-year contract with Maine Energy ends this spring, developing a recycling program could play a role in the negotiations.
City Council President Rick Laverriere said he thought the issue was much simpler and favored a referendum asking residents whether they would be in favor of a “pay-as-you-throw” program.
There are several variations of this program, which requires residents to pay for garbage bags as a way to incentivize recycling, which would be free.
Pay as you throw was considered when the council last debated whether to institute curbside recycling.
Laverriere was one of the councilors who was adamantly against it.
However, he said, if residents approve the concept he would vote for it.
According to data supplied by the waste management company Ecomaine, those communities that have the most successful recycling rates institute both curbside recycling pickup and pay as you throw.
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