September 23, 2018
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The high cost of recycling is hitting these Greater Bangor communities hard

Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Julio Mejia pulls plastic bags from the recycling steam at ecomaine in Portland. The bags are recyclable but low in value and very hard for the automated machines to sort properly.
By Alex Acquisto, BDN Staff
Updated:

Soaring recycling costs that show no sign of reprieve have forced at least six Greater Bangor towns to stop offering the service, and more are likely to follow.

Clifton, Dedham, Eddington, Hampden, Holden and Orrington have opted to no longer pay for normal recycling services, which have increased 600 percent in some cases, officials in each town said. Except for Orrington, each town is landfilling its recyclables and other waste until the new Fiberight facility in Hampden comes partly online, which should be sometime this fall.

“It’s unfortunate, but at the end of the day, if there’s an alternative, I’d love to know about it,” Holden Town Manager Ben Breadmore said. “Unfortunately, this is the lesser of all evils. Even the lesser of all evils is still evil.”

The dramatic cost increase across Maine municipalities can be traced to tightened waste management practices in China, the world’s largest importer of solid waste. The country announced last year it would ban imports of 24 waste items from the United States, Europe and other countries this year and began strictly enforcing its allowable limit for contaminated items.

Other reasons for the cost spike include the added expense for waste collecting facilities to clean dirty recyclables, and the challenge presented to resell those materials for profit.

Cost per ton in Holden from June to July jumped from $20 to $140 per ton, Breadmore said. In a town that diverts roughly 14 tons of recyclables each month, the town would have incurred an additional $20,000 of unbudgeted expenses, just to maintain.

Under these financial pressures, paying to recycle is not financially sustainable, Breadmore said.

Holden and its neighboring officials in Eddington decided last week to suspend their recycling services starting next month. Hampden officials followed suit on Monday, deciding to pool the town’s recyclables at the transfer station with the rest of its waste, rather than pay up to $840 more each week in hauling fees, Town Manager Jim Chandler said.

Orrington’s position as host community for the Penobscot Energy Recovery Co. means its trash and recycling can be processed into electricity or incinerated at no cost to the town, interim Town Manager Andy Fish said.

“If we continued at the tonnage we were sending, and at the $140 per ton rate, it would’ve been a $12,000 wack to our budget,” Fish said. The Orrington Board of Selectmen decided late last month to suspend its recycling service.

But not all communities’ recycling services have collapsed under the weight of added cost.

In Orono, for example, where recycling tipping fees jumped from $0 to $140 per ton this summer, town officials decided to absorb the dramatic increase by dipping into municipal reserve accounts in order to continue offering the service, Town Manager Sophie Wilson said.

The delayed completion of the waste-to-biofuel Fiberight plant in Hampden has complicated matters further, not only for Clifton, Dedham, Eddington, Hampden, Holden and Orono, but also for MRC’s more than 100 other central, northern and Down East communities, all of which are investors. With no alternative but to landfill until Fiberight opens, those communities have been paying $70 per ton to landfill nonrecyclable waste since the spring, plus added recycling costs.

Though five months behind schedule, once the front end comes online in this fall, Fiberight will be capable of processing and selling nonorganic materials, including recyclables, for about $35 a ton. Had the plant been operational when it was supposed to be on April 1, these communities likely wouldn’t be feeling the sharp sting of their current recycling woes.

Until Fiberight opens, Breadmore said, “We’re throwing away in order to recycle.”

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