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The days of Bangor residents separating their milk jugs, Moxie cans, Pottery Barn catalogues and other recyclables from the trash could be coming to an end.
City staff have recommended that Bangor move away from its current program of having residents leave their recyclables out for curbside pick up every other week.
Beginning in September, residents would put all their trash and recycling into the same loads that they drop at the curb every week under the proposed changes.
Those loads would then go to a new waste processing facility in Hampden, which has been designed to automatically divert any paper, plastic, organic material and other recyclable materials out of the waste stream. The plant is now ramping up its operations, and its owners have said it will be commercially active by July.
On Monday, the City Council will vote on whether to sign a five-year contract with Pine Tree Waste to do a weekly collection of trash and recycling mixed together starting Sept. 2.
The city has received a set of bids from Pine Tree Waste for either keeping the same waste pickup schedule — in which trucks collect trash every week and recyclables every other week — or switching to the combined arrangement.
The existing program would require annual fees starting at $830,016, according to the bids, while the annual fee for the combined collection would start at $747,015.
For the city to send mixed-together waste to the new Hampden plant, it will also have to pay a disposal fee of $70 per ton to the company that owns and runs the facility, Fiberight.
Pine Tree Waste has also made bids for a third option under which residents would mix their trash and recycling together, but save the city money on labor costs by using standard 96-gallon containers and an automated compactor on the side of the garbage truck. The annual fees for that program would be the lowest of the three options, starting at $713,814, but would require more upfront money and time to implement.
City staff will continue to review the viability of that third option so that the council can consider it later in the summer, Finance Director Debbie Cyr said at this week’s meeting of the City Council’s finance committee. Some southern Maine communities already use that approach, according to Cyr.
Two members of that committee, councilors Ben Sprague and Cary Weston, both spoke in favor of mixing recycling in with the trash at a Monday meeting.
But they, as well as Cyr, said the city will need to explain to residents that Bangor has not abandoned recycling.
“There is going to be the automatic thought that ‘I’m not recycling anymore and that’s not good,’” Cyr said. “So we’re going to have to do a lot of education so that people understand, ‘You are still recycling.’”
Bangor officials have said the new Hampden facility will allow the city to double the portion of waste that it recycles and that it will be the most reliable option for continuing to recycle even as China has stopped importing many U.S. recyclables. That change has dramatically increased the costs for communities across the country to keep recycling.
Bangor currently has a contract with Pine Tree Waste that will expire at the end of June, and on Monday, the city council will also consider whether to extend the terms of that contract until the new arrangement can start in September.