PORTLAND, Maine — The city of Portland has long offered curbside recycling pickup for homeowners, but municipal officials struggled to bump up the city’s overall recycling rates because thousands of residents lived in apartments away from curbs.
Under recently approved ordinance language, owners of multiunit apartment buildings in the city will be required to make recycling as accessible to tenants as trash disposal.
“The ordinance really leaves it up to the property owners to develop their own system. Every property is different, so every property owner will be able to develop a different strategy,” said Troy Moon, Portland’s environmental program manager. “But it has to be equally convenient to recycle as to trash something. If you have to walk past a trash can to get to the recycling bin, [the discarded item] may not make it into recycling.”
The ordinance followed a bumpy path to approval. The City Council agreed to pass the language last month after kicking it back to its Transportation, Sustainability and Energy Committee nine months ago, after concerns that Portland landlords weren’t given adequate notice about the demands soon to be hefted upon them.
“We got engaged very late in the game, and we were very frustrated,” Brit Vitalius, president of the Southern Maine Landlord Association, recalled. “To their credit, [the city] apologized for not getting us more involved earlier in the process.”
The landlords group helped push the ordinance implementation date to Jan. 1, 2015, to give multiunit apartment building owners more time to ramp up recycling efforts. The ordinance also allows landlords to apply for up to two years of extensions if they can show they have a plan to comply and are making progress toward the goal.
The new ordinance requiring multiunit landlords to offer recycling sets Portland apart from Maine’s next largest cities.
Rob Stalford of the Lewiston Public Works Department said his city has no special rules on the books obligating apartment buildings to offer recycling. But he also said there are no restrictions keeping tenants of those buildings from using the city’s curbside recycling pickup, as had been the case in Portland.
In Bangor, curbside recycling pickup is offered to all residential properties with four or fewer units. Steve Smith, the city’s assistant director of public works, said buildings with more than four units must pay for waste disposal services independent of the city program, but there is nothing on the books requiring those services to include recycling.
Portland’s new ordinance will affect 10,000 housing units in the city, which did not previously have access to the city’s curbside recycling pickup program. Moon said as part of the ordinance language, the city will offer to expand its curbside pickup to more of Portland’s apartment buildings to help them comply.
He said city officials would meet with landlords to discuss buildings on a case-by-case basis, determining whether the curbside program is a good fit based on location and curb access, among other criteria.
Moon said 23,000 units are served by the curbside program, with city residents recycling more than 5,600 tons of material each year, compared with more than 9,300 tons of trash.
How much new tonnage will be added because of the new requirement, he said, is unclear. Moon said landlords who opt for private recycling pickup will not have tonnage included in the city’s number. He added that many apartment buildings already offer convenient recycling without city prodding.
“It can only help,” Moon said. “More people will have access to recycling, and more people will be recycling.”
Vitalius said many landlords who had been paying for private waste pickup may avail themselves of the less expensive city curbside program, thus complying with the ordinance and potentially saving money at the same time.
“The number of landlords impacted by this ordinance may actually be quite small. The number of landlords having to pay for a new system, or Dumpster to accommodate recycling will not be a high number,” Vitalius said. “Some landlords have already invested in recycling because they’ve felt like there was a demand from their tenants to recycle. Then again, other landlords, who have a different tenant profile, are really concerned they’re going to have to work to convince their tenants to get in the habit of recycling.”
Moon said the city stands ready to help landlords implement recycling programs and educate tenants, if necessary. The ordinance only requires that landlords make recycling as accessible as trash, not that tenants take advantage of the option.
“The idea is to encourage people and help them comply, not to be heavy on enforcement,” he said.