The city of Bangor will soon change how residents dispose of their waste, eliminating the current program in which they separate recyclables — such as milk jugs and magazines — from the trash before it’s all left at the curbside for pickup.
Instead, the City Council voted Monday night to move to a new program in which residents will mix their recyclables and trash into the same loads that are picked up from the curbside on a weekly basis.
When the change takes effect in September, the loads will go to a new waste processing facility in Hampden that has been designed to automatically divert 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.
Councilors voted 6-1 to make the change, with supporters pointing to a guarantee made by the owner of the plant, Fiberight, than it can recycle at least half of the waste that it receives, rather than sending it along to landfills. Right now, the city only manages to recycle about a quarter of its waste.
The city will now enter a five-year contract with Pine Tree Waste to carry mixed loads of recycling and garbage away from the curbside every week to the Fiberight plant. The annual fee for the new collection program will start at $747,015.
The city will also have to pay Fiberight a fee of $70 per ton to send waste there.
On Monday night, Councilor Clare Davitt said she supports the change because it would help the city increase its recycling rates. She also said that the current program of separating out recyclables can be inefficient in its own way, such as when she must use large amounts of water to wash out finished jars of peanut butter before putting them in the recycling.
“I look forward to the education that will come out of this over the next few months,” Davitt said.
But Councilor Gibran Graham voted against changing the recycling program at this point because he thinks the Fiberight facility still needs to demonstrate that it can work.
“I don’t think at this time we should be putting all our recycling and refuse in one basket,” he said.
Councilors Gretchen Schaefer and Cary Weston did not attend this week’s meeting.
Since Bangor’s current contract with Pine Tree Waste ends after this month, the City Council also voted to extend the terms of that contract through September with a slight cost increase tied to the consumer price index.
With the extension of that contract, trash will continue to be collected from the curbside every week and recyclables will be collected every other week until September. After that, the weekly collections of all the waste will begin.
Unlike Bangor, some other area communities have chosen to send their trash and recycling to the Hampden plant in separate loads because the facility offers a 50 percent discount on the cost of disposing pre-sorted recyclables.
Despite that discount, Bangor staff recommended that the City Council move to weekly collections of mixed recycling and trash because it would have been more expensive to maintain the existing collection schedule. If Pine Tree Waste continued to pick up Bangor residents’ trash on a weekly basis and their recycling every other week, it would have cost the city greater annual fees starting at $830,016.
Finance Director Debbie Cyr also said that residents do not reliably separate their recycling from the trash, which could have disqualified some of the city’s waste deliveries from the recycling discount at the Fiberight plan.
Pine Tree Waste has also made bids for a third collection program 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, Cyr said at last week’s meeting of the City Council’s finance committee. Some southern Maine communities already use that approach, according to Cyr.
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, making it more expensive for communities to keep doing it.