Cumberland hopes to contain bulky waste disposal

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CUMBERLAND — With some residents using bulky waste collection week as a chance to dispose of large amounts of household trash, the town plans to improve its education campaign in time for the November collection. 

Dudley Greeley of Mill Road guided the Town Council through an illustrated presentation on May 9, showing one image of a 5-foot-tall mass of trash bags and boxes covered by a blue tarp – one example of the program’s misuse during Cumberland’s biannual bulky waste collection weeks.

“In Cumberland, you can put a trash bag on the curb at no cost, two days a year; it’s like the pumpkin arrived,” said Greeley, whose background includes time on what was once called the town’s waste reduction committee, and as director of the University of Southern Maine’s sustainability office.

The town held its most recent bulky waste pickup May 2-6. Town Manager Bill Shane said he hoped a stronger education campaign between now and November about what should be placed by the road – and what should be disposed of by other means – will correct misuse of the program by residents. It would also reduce the extra amount of material being picked up by Pine Tree Waste and brought primarily to ecomaine.

Cumberland pays $88 a ton in tipping fees, above and beyond a set fee for the two annual pickups, so the extra garbage – meant to be placed in prepaid town bags for weekly curbside pickup – adds up quickly. Ecomaine gets about $20,000 in average annual bulky waste fees from the two collection weeks; Pine Tree receives $4,700 to pick up the materials, Shane said.

“It’s magic,” Greeley said. “Twice a year you can put out anything you want, and it’ll get hauled away, whether it fits in a town of Cumberland bag or not. This is inaccurate information for the residents, and it’s disproportionately and inequitably placing the cost of trash management on residents who are doing what I think most of the people in Cumberland would like us to do, and that’s make more sensible decisions.”

Shane said about 12 percent of the town’s annual trash is picked up in the two bulky waste collection weeks, “so we pick up over 200 tons of bulky waste in two pickups.”

“It’s growing every year,” he noted. “The type of trash we’re seeing is becoming more and more problematic than what the intent of the original program was.”

According to the town website, items such as box springs, cabinets, washers and dryers, sofas, mattresses, large toys, large metal items, chairs and carpets are considered bulky waste. Cardboard, propane tanks, hazardous waste, TVs, computers and monitors, plastic bags, clothing or textiles, liquid waste, yard or tree waste, and appliances that contain freon are among items not allowed.

Shane estimated that between 50 percent and 70 percent of the people who use the system do not use it properly.

“I think a lot of people don’t understand that it’s not just junk week: throw everything you can out there,” he said. “Some of that is on us, that we have to do a better job educating folks.”

One remedy discussed at the meeting was a system requiring residents to tag appropriate bulk items.

“It would be clearly understandable what was allowed and what was not allowed,” Shane said.

But for now he plans to focus on a stronger program that teaches residents what they can put out, while educating Pine Tree drivers about what to pick up.

“We may not have to go to a tag program if we can get people to comply with what’s allowed and what’s not allowed,” Shane said.

The manager said he would work with his staff to come up with a recommendation for the Town Council.

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

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A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.