June 21, 2018
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Bangor considering zero-sort recycling program again

By Nick McCrea, BDN Staff

BANGOR, Maine — Two years after the City Council decided to trash a pay-as-you-throw, single-stream recycling proposal because costs were deemed too steep for families, the city is reviving talks about different zero-sort recycling models.

During an infrastructure committee meeting, Dana Wardwell, public works director, outlined five potential options for recycling and gave rough estimates of how much more or less each would cost the city.

The first option would create a dual-stream recycling system, meaning the city would pick up cardboard and newsprint one week and tin and plastic on the second week, but glass no longer would be picked up. That would save the city about $10,000 per year, according to Wardwell.

Councilor Ben Sprague expressed concerns about that idea, arguing that the idea of revamping recycling is to make it easier and more appealing to people, not to make them wonder what they can recycle this week and what comes next week.

The second option is to keep things the same.

As it stands, Bangor provides weekly curbside sorted recycling pickup for about 8,600 residents on a voluntary basis. That program allows residents to recycle cardboard, newsprint, tin, No. 2 plastic and glass, which are taken to a processing center in the city. A change to a single-stream system would allow residents to recycle 19 different materials in one container. The city also has a drop-off facility so residents who don’t have curbside service can recycle. That program has a projected net cost of $227,000 for this fiscal year, but the net cost typically ends up falling about $30,000 below what’s projected each year, according to Wardwell.

The third option, which is projected to cost about $48,000 more, would be for the city to continue running its processing center and drop-off area and have public works employees pick up single-stream recycling.

The fourth option would cost about $53,000 more and involve shutting down the processing center and drop-off area, leaving the single-stream recycling program up to a private contractor.

The final option would cost about $141,000 more, according to Wardwell. That would keep the city’s processing and drop-off centers open and leave the single-stream recycling duties to a private contractor.

All these recommendations would be voluntary and residents would not have to pay per load of recyclables or trash, but the ones with higher costs could mean small tax increases depending on what deal the city works out.

Councilor Nelson Durgin said he was concerned that if the city began a new recycling program, the reduced waste stream to Penobscot Energy Recovery Co. would mean Bangor would have to pay a more than $600,000 penalty. That was one of the main reasons the city balked at a switch two years ago, the other being that Bangor residents would have paid about $150 for pay-as-you-throw bags per year, whereas their taxes for the city’s current recycling program are closer to $50, according to City Councilor Charlie Longo.

Any potential penalty would be waived if the city used Casella Waste Systems’ zero-sort services. Casella would be a likely bidder to handle a Bangor zero-sort switch.

A Casella representative was at Tuesday’s meeting and said that there would be no penalty for not meeting its PERC tonnage obligations if the city went with Casella for its recycling. He also offered to work with Wardwell on finding “creative options” for city recycling that would meet the city’s needs with the least cost possible.

Several area communities have made the switch to a zero-sort recycling system in recent years. Orono switched to zero-sort last month. Hermon launched its program in 2011. Brewer switched in 2010 and also added a pay-as-you-throw program in 2011. Its residents responded by recycling four times the waste they used to.

Councilors asked Wardwell to try to pin down solid figures for what each option would cost the city and to bring those numbers to the next infrastructure committee meeting.

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