Cape Elizabeth council explores pay-per-bag trash disposal

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CAPE ELIZABETH — In an effort to reduce waste removal costs and to encourage recycling, the Town Council is exploring a pay-per-bag program for residents.

Councilors, in Feb. 8 workshop, agreed to pursue the concept and research it more thoroughly.

Councilors Frank Governali and Penny Jordan, the liaison to the ecomaine board of directors, created a cost analysis with several scenarios, including various bag costs and sizes, and savings based on recycling percentages. Councilor Jim Walsh researched how the program has worked in communities with similar populations and average incomes.

Residents now pay for waste collection through property taxes, regardless of whether they recycle. The pay-per-bag system would charge residents for the garbage bags required for disposal at the Recycling Center off Spurwink Avenue, providing an incentive to recycle more and produce less trash.

In Portland, 30-gallon trash bags cost $1.50 and 15-gallon bags are 75 cents. In Falmouth,  33-gallon bags cost $2.08 and 15-gallon bags are $1.46. Both communities provide curb-side pickup, while Cape residents must bring their trash and recyclables to the transfer station.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Web site, the pay-per-bag system encourages environmental sustainability, reduces municipal solid waste expenses and is inherently fair because residents take responsibility for their own waste.

Chairwoman Anne Swift-Kayatta said the largest expense in the municipal budget is waste disposal, although recycling in town has increased since it became mandatory last July.

According to Bob Malley, director of Public Works, the ecomaine line in the municipal budget is $667,000. When salaries and benefits are included, the annual waste disposal expense totals $845,000.

“The cost to the town includes tipping fees for the silver bullets and cardboard container fees,” Malley said. “There are containers at the schools and at the recycling center.”

According to the ecomaine Website, since Cape Elizabeth began single-sort recycling last July, recycling has increased from 29 percent to 36 percent of the waste stream.

“It is fantastic news that we are recycling more,” Swift-Kayatta said. “It is good for the environment and it saves us money, but we need to continue to explore ways to increase recycling.”

That is what Jordan and Governali will continue to do over the next few months.

“We’re not trying to make millions off trash bags, we are trying to get people to shift their thinking,” Jordan said. “We hope to change behavior.”

Councilor Sara Lennon said the pay-per-bag program will save money and benefit the environment.

“I can’t think of one downside to this plan,” she said.

Councilors will continue to research the program and will discuss it again in June during their environmental stewardship workshop.

Amy Anderson can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or

Sidebar Elements

Robert Shaedel unloads trash on Wednesday, Feb. 10, at the Cape Elizabeth Recycling Center. The Town Council is considering establishing a pay-per-bag system to encourage recycling.A sign at the Cape Elizabeth Recycling Center tracks the town’s recycling rate. The goal is 50 percent of the waste stream; last year it hovered between 30 percent and 35 percent.