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May 4, 2018

Ecomaine taking steps to address 'contamination' of its recycling stream

Courtesy / ecomaine
Courtesy / ecomaine
Kevin Roche, CEO and general manager of Portland-based ecomaine, talks to media about the importance of properly sorting recycled materials to eliminate "contamination" in the company's recycling stream.

Portland-based ecomaine put out a call today for customers in its member communities to assist the company in preventing contamination in recycling in order to address a dramatic cost shift in the global mixed-paper market, which has hit historic lows.

Ecomaine is a nonprofit recycling and waste-to-energy operation that serves a third of the state's population — providing more than 400,000 Mainers in 74 member communities with the opportunity to do single-sort recycling. Customers taking the time to exclude items that are not recyclable is a key requirement of making that system work.

Here's ecomaine's list of what can, and cannot be recycled.

"The current recycling market conditions are global in nature," said Kevin Roche, ecomaine's CEO and general manager. "The primary contributors to this collapse are the decline in newspaper production, a severe restriction on allowable contamination percentages by importers — particularly China — and high levels of contamination in the recycling stream."

This has resulted in a near $160 net swing in a year, from ecomaine being paid $100 per ton for its supply of post-consumer paper to having to pay $60 per ton to send it to markets in India, Vietnam, and Indonesia, the company stated in a news release.

To address the issue of contamination, Roche outlined several strategies ecomaine has taken to reduce contamination and make its supply of recyclable paper more marketable:

  • Adding staff to ecomaine's sorting lines.
  • Slowing down production in order to remove as much contamination as possible.
  • Researching new technologies that will assist in removing contamination.

Ecomaine said it is passing on costs in the following ways:

  • Charging an average cost of up to $70 per ton for processing fees, the costs of which fluctuate as markets change.
  • Conducting more in-depth inspections and exercising its policy to impose additional processing charges based on contamination thresholds of greater than 5%, ranging from $40 to $70.50 per ton.

Troy Moon, sustainability coordinator for the City of Portland and ecomaine's board chairman, said the current backlog of paper recycling is unprecedented but noted the city is committed to maintaining its recycling program, rather than sending waste to landfills.

"This is something that towns and cities in Maine can commit to, in order to keep material out of landfills," Moon said. "By keeping contamination out of recycling material, we can all keep costs down." he said.

Ecomaine's online resources

Courtesy / ecomaine
Courtesy / ecomaine
A quick guide to what can be recycled.

Ecomaine said it has created resources on its website to help households and communities reduce contamination by being diligent in placing appropriate items in the correct bin, including its new RECYCLOPEDIA mobile app, that identifies recyclable materials and provides a quick reference for knowing when recyclable items will be collected in its member communities.

"We are all in this fight against contamination together," said Roche. "The next time you go to your recycling bin, ask yourself, "Which bin should I put it in? Is this really recyclable?" If you don't know, please take a moment to find out the answer."

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