Residents of some Greater Bangor communities will soon have to be more careful about the types of things they throw in the recycling if they want to make the most of a new waste processing facility that’s expected to open in Hampden at the beginning of July after a yearlong delay.
A group of 115 communities across eastern, central and northern Maine has agreed to send its waste to the new plant, a three-acre complex that will use a mix of sensors, heavy machinery and other technology to separate out recyclable materials from the waste stream.
The facility has given those Maine communities a choice of how to dispose of their waste, according to an agreement between the body that represents them, the Municipal Review Committee and Fiberight.
Under the agreement, the communities can pay a single fee of $70 per ton to deliver all waste at the same time, minimizing delivery costs and relying on Fiberight’s technology to divert as many recyclable materials away from the landfill as possible.
Or, those communities can send their garbage and recycling to the Fiberight plant separately, paying $70 per ton for the garbage deliveries and half that rate — $35 per ton — for the recycling.
While that second approach would yield recycling savings, it would also require the communities to pay more to separate and transport their waste to the Hampden plant.
It would also require residents of those communities to be vigilant about what waste they throw in the recycling, since the Fiberight plant will not count either glass or lower grades of plastic as recyclables, even though those materials have previously been accepted by some recycling programs.
Once the Fiberight facility is commercially running, it will charge communities the regular $70 per ton rate for loads of recycling that are contaminated with non-recyclable waste, according to Shelby Wright, Fiberight’s director of community services.
Five MRC communities have so far signed a contract to send their recycling to the Fiberight plant for the discounted rate, Wright said, while about six have decided to pay the single rate of $70 per ton and send all their waste at the same time.
The town of Hampden plans to pay the discounted fee to send its recycling separately, but it will also raise awareness among residents about the new recycling guidelines by sending out mailers and posting notices at its transfer station, according to Town Manager Jim Chandler.
“We’re actually saving 50 percent,” Chandler said. But the town must “do its best job to educate the public, so we’re compliant with the rules and can save on tax dollars.”
The MRC communities have already seen considerable change in their ability to recycle over the last year. After China restricted what types of recyclables it would import from the U.S., many of them were forced to either pay more to recycle or abandon their recycling programs entirely, instead sending cans, plastics and other materials straight to landfills.
Since July 2018, Orono has been paying Casella Waste between $140 and $155 per ton to collect unsorted recyclables that residents have left at the curbside, according to Town Manager Sophie Wilson.
Like Hampden, Orono also plans to have its recycling processed at the Fiberight plant at the $35-per-ton rate once it opens and will be educating residents about the changes in what materials can be recycled there, Wilson said.
But Bangor, which has also been paying Casella to collect its recyclables over the last year, has not yet decided how it will send its recyclables to the Fiberight facility. The city is now seeking bids from companies to either collect all waste together, or to collect garbage and recyclables separately as is now the case, according to City Manager Cathy Conlow.
Based on those bids, city officials may decide that it’s more efficient to send all of Bangor’s waste to Fiberight at the single disposal fee of $70 per ton, according to Conlow. Whichever method the city chooses, Conlow said that the new facility should eventually help the city increase the portion of waste that it recycles from around 28 percent now to over 50 percent.
“We’re going to double our recycling rates by busing to Fiberight,” she said.