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Cape Elizabeth council weighs pay-per-bag trash disposal

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Cape Elizabeth council weighs pay-per-bag trash disposal

CAPE ELIZABETH — The Town Council wants more data before deciding whether the town should adopt a pay-per-bag trash disposal program.

The council and Recycling Committee met in a workshop Monday, July 12, to discuss the proposal.

The program, which the town is calling "pay-per-throw," would require residents to purchase garbage bags in order to dispose of household waste. In other towns, similar programs have been known to encourage residents to recycle more and throw away less.

According to Bob Malley, director of public works, Cape Elizabeth currently has a 32 percent recycling rate for household waste. When brush, hazardous materials, and all other recycled items are included, the rate rises to 72.4 percent. The state standard is 50 percent, he said.

A pay-per-bag system is seen as a means to increase recycling, encourage residents to compost organic waste, and ultimately move from a property tax-funded trash program to one based on a user fee.

While the Recycling Committee endorsed the concept of a pay-per-bag system, members cautioned the council about physical and philosophical challenges the shift could create.

In a letter from the committee to the council dated May 1, they said challenges include site configuration, lack of a gate house and the number of available personnel at the transfer station. They said the biggest hurdle would be the shift from a property tax-funded program to a user-fee program.

But, since other communities have found that a pay-per-bag system increases recycling rates and reduces waste disposal costs, members said they could endorse the pay-per-bag concept.

In Portland, the pay-per-bag program, coupled with an increased recycling effort, has reduced waste since 2005, City Hall spokeswoman Nicole Clegg said.

"When you couple a pay-per-bag and recycling program, there is a happy merger," Clegg said. "People realize the connection between the cost of buying the bags and throwing away trash and how that can be reduced through recycling efforts."

Pay-per-bag and recycling efforts in Portland have helped the city reduce its solid waste volume from 12,500 tons in 2005 to about 10,250 tons in 2009, Clegg said.

In Falmouth, another community using a pay-per-bag system, waste volume has also been reduced.

Bonny Rodden, the Town Council liaison to the Recycling Committee, said Falmouth's pay-per-bag system is well-established, and as one of the first programs in Maine, received accolades from the Environmental Protection Agency as an example for other communities to follow.

"Since the beginning, we've seen an increase in recycling and a dramatic decrease in household waste," Rodden said. "This system has been incredibly efficient."

Curbside recycling and trash pick-up are part of the programs in Falmouth and Portland. Bag prices range from 75 cents to more than $2, depending on size.

At this point, councilors and the Recycling Committee have no working plan for a pay-per-bag system. They first have to determine if there will be curbside pickup of trash or recyclables, or transfer station drop-off, the cost of bags and where they would be sold.

Councilor Penny Jordan, the town's liaison to the ecomaine board of directors, said pay-per-bag is only one element of a larger effort to increase recycling and composting and to reduce the cost of waste management in town.

"Pay-per-throw is only one solution," she said. "The opportunity is in organic waste and moving it from the waste stream."

Jordan said she is in favor of looking at a broader strategy to combine municipal, school and residential efforts to boost recycling and composting, but said residents are happy with the transfer station.

"I am opposed to a fee-based system, but want to reduce waste in the system," she said.

Other councilors spoke in favor of starting a pay-per-bag program while working to educate the public.

Council Chairwoman Anne Swift-Kayatta said there are a number of considerations to address as the council explores the prospect of a pay-per-bag system.

As citizens, she said the effort to increase recycling is for the greater good, and as councilors, she indicated a desire to reduce costs for taxpayers.

"Third is a philosophical issue of the cost shifting," she said. Costs could be based either on the size of the property, or on how much the resident recycles, she said.

In addition, Swift-Kayatta said the public should be involved in the decision, but not in a referendum vote, as recommended by the Recycling Committee.

The council will hold an additional workshop on the proposal Monday, Aug. 9, at 7 p.m. to outline potential pay-per-bag guidelines.

Amy Anderson can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or aanderson@theforecaster.net