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- The Forecaster
FALMOUTH — Despite outreach to residents about only putting items that can be recycled into curbside containers, many communities are still experiencing high contamination rates.
In response, the towns of Falmouth, Scarborough and Windham, and the city of South Portland, are hiring two summer interns to track what’s going into recycling bins and to educate users about what can be accepted and what can’t.
The 10-week internship will start June 3. Applications are due to Kimberly Darling, Falmouth’s sustainability coordinator, by April 1. To apply, send a letter of interest and resume to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 699-5337.
The interns will be paid $12 an hour, with the four communities using a combination of grants and money from their annual budgets, Darling said.
She said the communities are looking for “people who are reliable, committed, detail-oriented, have great communication skills and can work both independently and collaboratively.” She also said that high school students would be considered.
After a couple weeks of training, Darling said the interns would be put to work inspecting recycling bins in the four communities for non-recyclable materials, tagging bins that are non-compliant, and collecting data.
In addition, they will be part of a comprehensive public outreach campaign about proper recycling, she said.
The four communities are partnering with the University of Southern Maine and ecomaine, a waste-to-energy plant based in Portland that takes household trash and recycling from more than 70 municipalities around Maine.
Darling and the other sustainability coordinators in Scarborough, Windham and South Portland, all said it’s vitally important for the four communities to reduce the rates of recycling contamination because it’s becoming costly.
Matt Grondin, communications manager at ecomaine, said instead of paying communities for their recycling, as was done in the past, the plant must now charge a flat fee of $35 per ton to process the materials. Any loads with contamination rates above 5 percent will be charged an additional, graduated fee, with a top fee of $73 per ton starting July 1.
This week Darling said that virtually every community is Maine is “wrestling with contamination in their recycling streams” and although ecomaine and many towns held informational sessions last summer, “the issue is still prevalent.”
According to Darling, contamination rates are averaging between 10 and 30 percent for the four communities participating in the pilot project.
Darling said the biggest source of contamination in Falmouth is recycling that is bagged. “Ecomaine wants the recycling loose and not bagged,” she said. The problem is, the town only issues open recycling bins and she said people are bagging their recycling to prevent blowing.
However, Darling said residents can purchase containers with lids that are “clearly marked for recycling” and they will still be collected, even though it’s not an official bin issued by the town of Falmouth.
She said the interns will mark recycling bins with a red tag to indicate non-compliance; a yellow tag to indicate there are some issues, but parts of the material are still acceptable; and green tags to “reward good recycling efforts.”
Jami Fitch, the sustainability coordinator in Scarborough, said the recycling pilot project is needed because “global changes in the recycling market are resulting in higher costs for our communities.”
“We need to get our costs under control, and reducing contamination in our recycling stream is a big part of this. If ecomaine has to reject recycling loads because of too much contamination, towns now have to pay more (and) that adds up fast.”
Julie Rosenbach, the director of sustainability in South Portland, said it’s hoped the pilot project will “problem-solve common issues and challenges,” as well as create an effective outreach effort that actually “changes behavior for the better.”
Ecomaine has had to hire sorters to remove non-recyclables from the waste stream, and the cost is now filtering down to local communities.