LEWISTON, Maine — If you were to rip open trash bags on a curb any given day, chances are good you’d find things in there that should be recycled: glass, cans, bottles, newspaper, paper and cardboard.
Some residents are vigilant about recycling and use the city’s 36-gallon recycle bin, where they can throw all their items inside one container without separating.
But many don’t recycle at all, say those who pick up and process the garbage.
An average Lewiston household disposes of 53 pounds of solid waste a week, Lewiston Solid Waste Superintendent Rob Stalford said. Of that 53 pounds, five pounds is recycled — about 10 percent.
If residents boost what they recycle each week to 12 pounds, or 22 percent, the citywide savings would be $100,000, Stalford said.
Any municipal wonk will tell you it’s pretty tough to find $100,000 savings in the budget.
It costs more money to throw out solid waste than to recycle it, Stalford said. Not only are there environmental benefits in turning trash into something useful, it also limits the amount of burned trash, which emits greenhouse gases into the air, and reduces the amount of solid waste that’s buried in the ground.
Lewiston’s citywide recycling rate is 22 percent, counting both businesses and residents. “That’s up from 19.5 percent a year ago,” Stalford said. Lewiston’s ordinance requires residents to recycle, but the law is not enforced.
Maine’s statewide recycling rate in 2011 was 39.6 percent, according to the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.
“We have a goal of 50 percent,” George MacDonald, director of DEP’s Sustainability Division, said.
In 2010, Auburn’s recycling rate was 20.4 percent, Augusta’s was 28 percent and Bangor’s was 39.3 percent, MacDonald said.
Portland’s recycling rate was 38 percent for 2012, according to EcoMaine, a nonprofit waste management company owned by 21 southern Maine municipalities.
Towns with high recycling rates last month, according to EcoMaine’s website, were Pownal, 45 percent; Windham, Falmouth and North Yarmouth, all 41 percent; and Cumberland, 38 percent.
Communities with pay-per-bag programs, or those that have to buy special trash bags in order to have their garbage picked up, have higher recycling rates, MacDonald said.
“The minute people have to start paying to get rid of their trash, they become more interested in recycling,” he said. “Especially if the recycling program is free and convenient.”