A city worker empties a large recycling bin in Portland's Old Port in this April 2, 2014, file photo. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

Don’t know what materials go in the recycling bin versus what goes in the trash? If you’re a resident of Portland or Scarborough, you’re about to find out.

ecomaine is sending interns to inspect recycling bins in two more southern Maine communities this year as part of an expanded effort beginning this October to reduce contamination and educate the public on how to recycle properly.

“The cost to deal with trash and recycling is one of any community’s top expenditures [annually], but poor recycling practices cost towns and their taxpayers even more. When trash ends up in your recycling bin, additional time and money are spent cleaning it out,” the organization said in announcing the program earlier this year.

ecomaine recorded between 85 and 90 percent contamination in South Portland, particularly around the Redbank Village at least since April, the Forecaster reported in August.

During inspections, interns will stick recycling carts with various colored tags signaling what is inside. A green tag signifies a “job well done,” yellow means it needs one or two changes and red tags signify that the bin is contaminated with too much trash.

Interns will only be authorized to lift the lid of bins to inspect the contents, but not rummage through them, according to the Portland Press Herald.

Tags will also include an explanation about what items don’t belong in the recycling stream. Pine Tree Waste will not collect carts with red tags and the contamination must be removed from the recycling and put into trash in order to be collected, ecomaine said.

The program has also taken place in South Portland and Westbrook in previous years. Last year, South Portland saw a 6 percent decrease in citywide recycling contamination during the internship program, according to the city’s sustainability director, Julie Rosenbach.

The city of Portland has resorted to other efforts in trying to change residents’ recycling habits in recent years, too. In 2018, the city was handing out warnings with a possible $100 fine to people who left “contaminated” recycling bins out for curbside pickup.

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