BREWER, Maine — Six years ago, the city’s finance director said the reason Brewer was implementing a controversial pay-as-you-throw program and zero-sort recycling was to reduce costs associated with sending trash to Penobscot Energy Recovery Co. in Orrington in anticipation of prices doubling after 2018.
The move, which upset some residents at the time, reduced the amount of trash sent to PERC and has resulted in $370,000 in savings over the last five years, according to data collected by Finance Director Karen Fussell.
“I wasn’t surprised at all,” City Manager Steve Bost said Wednesday of the savings. “I wasn’t surprised because Karen has kept the City Council very informed on the issues. We know there has been significant savings.
“We know the program is a success,” he said.
The waste-reduction programs worked so well the city actually paid a penalty to PERC for not meeting its guaranteed annual tonnage after the first year.
Brewer’s pay-as-you-throw program went into effect in January 2011, with residents paying for orange pay-as-you-throw trash bags imprinted with the city’s logo that they could fill and put out for curbside pickup. There are two sizes of bags, with 15-gallon bags costing $1.25 each or $6.25 for a roll of five and 33-gallon bags priced at $2 or $10 for a roll of five. They are sold at 11 stores in town.
To help residents reduce the amount of trash that goes to the curb, a zero-sort recycling program was put into place six months beforehand, in July 2010.
The result is that residents reduced the amount of solid waste collected curbside by half — dropping from 2,919 tons in 2010 to an average of 1,455 tons per year since — and recycling increased nearly six-fold.
Brewer’s recycling rate jumped from 5 percent the year before the two programs went into effect to around 29 percent nowadays, according to Joshua Kolling-Perin, a spokesman for WasteZero, which operates the Brewer program and others around the state.
“These programs increase individuals’ awareness of the cost of their trash, reducing solid waste by an average of 44 percent and doubling or sometimes tripling recycling rates,” Kolling-Perin said in a press release about Brewer’s savings.
Brewer residents recycled 155 tons of plastic, metal, glass and newspapers in 2010 and now average 587 tons per year, city data shows.
“Since its inception, Brewer’s pay-as-you-throw and zero-sort recycling program has been a resounding success,” Brewer Mayor Bev Uhlenhake said in the statement. “Residents appreciate the enhanced recycling, and the savings from the PAYT program have had a positive impact on the city’s tax rate, which benefits all of our taxpayers.”
Fussell estimates that “the savings equate to approximately 10 cents on the city’s [property tax] rate.”
PERC, which is where the city’s trash is currently sent to be burned to make electricity, will lose a lucrative above-market contract with Emera Maine in 2018. PERC’s latest post-2018 tipping fee price is $84.36 a ton for a 15-year agreement or $89.57 for a 10-year contract.
Over the last six years, city officials have been researching ways to save money when it comes to trash, as well as increase recycling and reduce what goes into landfills, and at the end of January signed a 15-year contract to send waste to the Municipal Review Committee’s planned trash-to-energy facility in Hampden instead of PERC starting in 2018.
The Hampden plant will feature technology from Maryland-based Fiberight that reuses organic materials in trash to make biofuels after the glass, metals, papers and plastics are removed to be sold on the commodities market.
The contract with Brewer “provides a starting tip fee of $70 per ton, an annual [consumer price index] escalator, a minimum of a $5 per ton reduction in the tip fee in the first three years, and provisions to share in profits of the facility above a certain level,” the council order states.
“We have a really strong council. They are very informed on the issues and do not mind taking a leadership role on key issues,” Bost said.