Coastal Resources of Maine facility in Hampden. Credit: Sam Schipani / BDN

We are on the edge of losing the two most valuable solutions to the future of solid waste management and reverting back to the archaic act of filling our landfills. PERC is running at about 50 percent capacity, according to data from the company, and Coastal Resources of Maine is temporarily closed. Both have the capacity to handle waste and restore the Maine economy.

I have been watching with interest the evolution of the way Maine handles municipal solid waste (MSW). More than 30 years ago, a private landfill was proposed in Down East Maine that changed the disposal of Maine trash forever. The environmental movement expressed such an outcry the Legislature decided the only new landfills would be state owned.

A disposal hierarchy was established making landfilling the disposal of last resort. First, reduce, reuse, recycle, then waste-to-energy and, on the bottom, landfill. Compost was added in 2014.

Later, in the Baldacci administration, Maine purchased the Juniper Ridge and Dolby landfills at the dismay of many Old Town residents.

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Fast forward to 2012. I was placed on the Legislature’s Environment and Natural Resources Committee where municipal solid waste policy is created and overseen. PERC, a waste-to-energy facility was operating in Orrington, and MERC, another waste-to-energy facility in southern Maine had been closed, while other processing facilities still operate in Westbrook, Lewiston, Auburn, Aroostook County and Unity and a new anaerobic digesting facility in Exeter.

About the same time, PERC was faced with the electric rate subsidy established at its inception terminating. Their minority partner, Maine Municipal Review Committee (MRC), decided to go it alone and landed on a new handling process that was then proposed in Hampden.

In 2015, I had a sense that with the combined legislative experience in waste management of the Environment and Natural Resources Committee Senate Chair Tom Saviello, House members Rep. Bob Duchesne and Rep. Denise Harlow, we should get a handle on the future of municipal solid waste before their terms were up. In 2016, I submitted legislation to gather all MSW stakeholders and have them advise us on how to manage future waste. That was less than successful. In the last days of the 128th Legislature, I requested a briefing from the same stakeholders to update the committee.

That was a most shocking committee meeting. We were informed the bottom had fallen out of the recycling market. China had been taking our 30 percent contaminated product and would no longer take product with more than 3 percent contamination. Recycled product was piling up in mountains somewhere in the U.S.

From the perspective of the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, the two major players in municipal solid waste had become PERC, which with the loss of many towns was now operating at about 50 percent capacity, and Fiberight (Coastal Resources), the new materials management recycling facility in Hampden. They play a big part in the future of waste management.

Now with COVID-19 their commercial waste has diminished.

In my opinion, both facilities have huge potential to create an economic base for the lower Penobscot basin. PERC produces electricity, steam and hot water, is located on a 162-acre campus of town-owned land with another 60 acres soon to be turned over after environmental cleanup, has water, rail and utility access for a significant environmental business park. And it reduces the waste stream by no less than 90 percent, according to data from the company. Coastal Resources, located on a new industrial complex in Hampden just off Interstate 95 with major utilities on site, could repurpose and manufacture their recycled products on abutting properties.

I recently read an article about how Sweden leads the world in recycling, to a point that they need to import trash from other countries. I couldn’t wait to get to the punchline. About one paragraph from the bottom of the article it stated they “burn it!”

Bingo, we have that right here in Orrington. It’s running at half capacity and has development opportunities surrounding it.

With Coastal Resources, the Old Town mill reprocessing facility and PERC, the lower Penobscot basin could service a major international population with recycle, reuse and repurpose businesses. Maine’s economy could become the center of a global solution.

It’s time for action. Reconvene the Environment and Natural Resources Committee, request the three retired legislators provide testimony, gather the stakeholders and get it done.

Dick Campbell of Orrington represents District 130 in the Maine House of Representatives.