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Updated: April 22, 2020

As Maine communities curtail recycling, Hampden waste-to-energy plant opens it to all

Courtesy / Coastal Resources of Maine Coastal Resources of Maine, in Hampden, has started taking single-sort recycling from municipalities that don't have a solid waste contract with the plant.
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Coastal Resources of Maine, in Hampden, will accept single-stream recycling waste from municipalities that don't send their solid waste to the plant, spurred by changes in the recycling industry as well as COVID-19 restrictions in towns and cities.

The plant, co-owned by Fiberight Corp., processes waste from 115 cities and towns, turning about 80% of it into renewable energy, and separating out recyclable material. Member municipalities send in unsorted waste and the plant's technology machine-separates and processes items for conversion into energy or repurposed goods.

The 144,000-square-foot plant opened last year to accommodate municipalities that had been sending waste to the Penobscot Energy Recovery Corp. incinerator in Orrington.

The company said Tuesday that it will suspend the solid waste requirement and allow nonmember municipalities that have suspended or limited their programs to send recyclables to the plant. Many municipalities have stopped accepting recycling as a safety procedure during the COVID-19 outbreak, so that staff won't have to handle possibly contaminated items.

“With recycled commodity prices at historic lows, too many communities have suspended recycling programs or limited collection to a few items," said Shelby Wright, Coastal Resources director of community services, in the news release. "Now they may be struggling to provide these essential services to their residents during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"We feel it is our responsibility to provide more Maine communities with disposal options that maintain a hierarchy of recycling over incineration," Wright said. The state-mandated waste hierarchy lists reducing waste as the top priority, followed by reuse, recycling, composting, processing, incineration and landfilling.

Coastal Resources began accepting the additional material on Wednesday, which the company pointed out is Earth Day. The plant accepted its first loads on April 22 last year and began fully operating in November.

Wright said the expansion to single-stream recycling "demonstrates our commitment to respond to unexpected shifts in consumer behavior and market fluctuations while maintaining operational standards."

“We have a more affordable and stable pricing structure for the processing of recyclable materials and are excited to be at a stage of our operations where we can now offer our state-of-the-art recycling services to communities across the state," she said.

The plant's machinery shreds bags of rubbish, and the contents go through a series of screens, where materials are separated and channeled according to size and type.

Development of the plant began in 2012, when the Municipal Review Committee, which had 187 member towns and cities, began looking for options after its 17-year contract with PERC ended. About half of the MRC communities, as well as some not in MRC, signed on to make up the 115 members Coastal Resources now has.

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