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August 8, 2019

Amid questions of recycling, CEO speaks out

Courtesy / ecomaine Kevin Roche, CEO of ecomaine, discusses the value of recycling at a meeting of municipal officials Wednesday.

As some communities in Maine reconsider the value of their municipal waste recycling programs, the leader of the state’s largest recycler appealed for patience.

“In the very short term, recycling may be more expensive today, but we know that over time, landfilling is far more expensive,” said Kevin Roche, CEO of ecomaine, in an address Wednesday to the Maine Town, City and County Management Association.

Since 2018, markets for recyclable materials have been hurt by factors including the contamination rates of recycled material, China’s policy of accepting only highly clean material, and changes in packaging that ends up in the waste stream, ecomaine said in a news release.

The nonprofit waste processor, which serves one-third of the state’s population and over 70 communities, has mounted public information campaigns to encourage better compliance with recycling rules. Communities such as Falmouth and Windham have made their own efforts to reduce contamination, which triggers ecomaine to charge higher fees — as much as $73 per ton.

On Sept. 2, Bangor will abandon its dedicated curbside recycling program in favor of a “one bin” system, in which residents’ solid waste and recyclable materials are collected together. It all will be sorted and processed at a new waste facility in Hampden, operated by Fiberight LLC, according to the city. The $70 million plant, delayed for more than a year, is due to go online in the coming weeks.

While Bangor says the new approach will ultimately double the level of material that’s recycled, the switch is another sign that municipalities may question the value of the familiar drawer-sized plastic totes.

In his presentation to more than 100 municipal staff at Sugarloaf Mountain in Carrabassett Valley, Roche said, “Recycling is a long-term strategy. When it comes to sustainable solid waste management, we have to do the math over many years, and even decades, not month to month or year to year.”

He cited figures showing that 500,000 tons of waste recycled from 2005-2019 by ecomaine customers would have cost communities $36 million if the material had been handled as trash.

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