A large cluster of automated sorting equipment nearly a story tall sits dormant in the middle of the Fiberight Coastal Resources of Maine facility in Hampden, but officials are still unable to pinpoint when it will begin processing waste.
Installation of this recycling and non-organic waste sorting infrastructure, worth $11.5 million, is nearly complete, CEO Craig Stuart-Paul said Tuesday during a facility tour. As for when towns can expect to cease landfilling and send their trash and recyclables to his facility, he’s not sure — but it’ll be sometime this fall.
“Everyone wants a firm date,” he said.
“If I bring in waste, where’s it going to go?” he said, gesturing to the steel beams still waiting to be assembled, scattered on the concrete floor. Half of the plant’s 144,000-square-foot floor is still dirt. The pulper — on a boat in the Atlantic Ocean — is expected to arrive in New York City on Oct. 16, he said.
“We could panic and get this running to do some waste sooner. The question, then, is if we could get the whole thing going and get the maximum amount of [waste], is that better for all? We think so, but we don’t have the exact date for when that would be,” he said.
In full, the whole plant will not come online until early 2019.
Construction of the building began last July. It was supposed to begin receiving waste from its member communities April 1, but the $69 million facility was far from complete. Landfilling was the only waste disposal alternative for the 115 central, northern and Down East communities that form the Municipal Review Committee and are building the plant.
Since then, some of those communities have continued to recycle, but the tightening of China’s waste management practices this year has led to soaring recycling costs — a reality that has forced some MRC communities to discontinue their recycling services.
At a Sept. 12 MRC board meeting, Stuart-Paul told board members that he recognizes “there’s a crisis … and we’re the kind of infrastructure needed to bring that back.”
He also told the board Fiberight didn’t have a final date for when the non-organic sorting end of the plant will open, but he’s committed to providing a definitive schedule of dates on Sept. 21 that explains “when we can start providing services to whom.”
But during the Sept. 18 plant tour, Stuart-Paul said he won’t be providing those dates on Friday. It will take another two to three weeks to iron out all the construction and organization details, he said, but he still expects the front end to begin processing waste in October or November.
Once the state-of-the-art facility is humming, there’s no limit to the plant’s automated sorting capabilities, including using artificial intelligence to train machines to sort specific products.
“There’s no question this is getting built. This is for real,” he said. “So, now, we’re just making business decisions.”
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