The new waste plant in Hampden is looking to hire another crop of workers so the facility can accept more deliveries of trash and ramp up its production of raw materials that it can sell to out-of-state paper manufacturers.
That news comes after Coastal Resources of Maine has suffered several recent setbacks. The plant, which opened more than a year behind schedule, is still struggling to sell the fuel products that it makes from trash within the Pine Tree State. It also reopened late last week after shutting down for 4½ days when a partially full propane cylinder — the kind used on a camping lantern — exploded inside the facility.
But on Wednesday, CEO Craig Stuart-Paul of the plant’s parent company, Fiberight, gave a rosier update to board members of the Municipal Review Committee, an organization representing the 115 towns and cities that send their trash to the Hampden plant.
Now that the facility has been accepting household waste from those communities for several months, it plans to accept additional deliveries of commercial waste from around Greater Bangor and start offering its services to non-Municipal Review Committee communities, Stuart-Paul said.
To handle the anticipated increase in deliveries, it will hire a second shift of workers in the next month. Right now, the plant processes about 275 to 300 tons of waste a shift, but Stuart-Paul projected that a second shift would double the capacity.
“Frankly, right now, we want all the waste we can get so we can process it,” he said.
Coastal Resources of Maine now employs about 50 workers. Director of Community Services Shelby Wright said she did not know exactly how many more would be hired for the second shift.
The limitations of the current staffing became apparent during the holiday season when eight communities that use trailers to deliver their waste to the Hampden waste plant experienced long wait times because the plant was packed with other hauling vehicles, according to Municipal Review Committee Executive Director Michael Carroll.
As a result, those communities were given the option to send their waste to landfills during the busy period, Carroll said. At least one committee board member, Orono Town Manager Sophie Wilson, said that some of her constituents would not be pleased to hear about that arrangement.
A second shift of workers would help to move trash more quickly through the plant’s delivery area and to free up space for haulers, according to Stuart-Paul.
He made that announcement after Bucksport Town Manager Susan Lessard, who attended Wednesday’s committee board meeting, said, “A number of people who now work at Fiberight are from Bucksport. When portions of the operation are not operating, they get concerned.”
At the meeting, Stuart-Paul also announced that Fiberight is close to signing a contract to sell pulp it makes from processing waste to “a large multinational paper company” that he did not identify. That deal would help Coastal Resources of Maine to recycle waste while also giving it the confidence that there are buyers for its end products, he said.
The Hampden facility, which started accepting waste last spring, has a goal of diverting at least half the waste it receives away from landfills while also finding markets for the recycled goods that it produces. But it became much harder for the operation to meet those objectives in early 2018, when China placed stiff restrictions on what recycled materials it would import from the U.S.
Until now, the plant has been stockpiling the paper fiber that it makes or providing it to landfills for use as a cover material, Wright said. It has been seeking a permit from Maine regulators to sell that fiber to manufacturers for use as boiler fuel, but the company now does not expect to receive that clearance until at least early March. It also produces plastic fuel briquettes that have yet to be permitted for sale in Maine.
“It is a pivotal moment for the plant, going from these multiple disasters — which have been the permitting challenges and the China issues — to something which is far more stable and long term,” Stuart-Paul said. “All of the pulp and paper products that we’re producing will be shipped out of state. We would much prefer to sell things inside the state of Maine, but we have all the permit requirements we need to sell outside the state.”