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Single-stream recycling begins in Harpswell

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Single-stream recycling begins in Harpswell

HARPSWELL — Sorting recycled waste is now a thing of the past.

The town began its new single-stream recycling program this month, a development that officials hope will increase recycling, although it's unclear if it will save the town money.

In the past, residents had to separate cardboard from plastic, glass and other materials for the Recycling Center at 21 Community Drive. The town would then resell the recycled material.

Now residents can throw everything – plus plastic containers coded Nos. 3-7 – into one, 42-cubic-yard container next to the town's waste container.

Recycling Manager Fred Cantu said the new program will not only simplify the recycling process for residents, but will also allow them to recycle more waste.

"It's so easy that I think more people will do it," said Jennifer Coughlin, of Potts Point, who was disposing of recycled waste on Tuesday afternoon. "It's quicker, cleaner and it's good for the town."

"Now," Coughlin added, "my husband might even do it."

A full list of approved recyclable materials can be found at harpswell.maine.gov.

While Cantu said the single-stream program is intended to encourage residents to recycle more and more often, it's unclear if the new program will be cost-effective. 

Before the single-stream program began this month, the town used to sell all of its recycled material, Cantu said. The proceeds would then go to the town as an extra source of revenue.

Last year, for instance, the town generated $67,000 from selling recycled waste.

But now that the town is using a single-stream program, the town will not only lose that revenue source, but it will also have to pay $145 every time Pine Tree Waste hauls a load from the Recycling Center.

The haul rate is part of a contract between the town and Pine Tree Waste that runs from August to the end of December.

The town also hires Pine Tree Waste for solid waste removal at $60 per ton and $160 per haul in a separate agreement that expires at the end of the year.

Cantu said the reason Pine Tree Waste doesn't charge the town by the ton for recycled waste is because the contractor offsets that fee by selling the recycled material itself.

The Board of Selectmen was expected to review a request for proposals on Thursday for a one- or three-year contract for solid and recycled material removal next year.

Cantu said he hopes the new program will increase the town's recycling rate over the next few years, because it has been fairly consistent over the past decade.

Last year, for instance, the town produced about 1,033 tons of solid waste and 470 tons of recycled materials. In the preceding four years, the town actually recycled more materials, with a high point of 555 tons of recycling and 1,067 tons of solid waste in 2008.

If the new program can increase the town's recycling rate, some cost savings could happen over the long term, Cantu said, although it may not be able to fully replace the revenue it will lose now and in the future.

The thought of losing that revenue was why Cantu and others were originally uncertain about switching to single-stream recycling.

"My concerns were day-to-day operations," Cantu said. "How much would it cost and would those costs increase? My analysis was that it would cost more."

But Cantu said after he, town staff and the Board of Selectmen considered the long-term plans for the town's recycling program, they began to change their minds.

Much of the town's aging equipment for its old recycling system was going to be due for replacement in the next few years, Cantu said, which would have cost the town a considerable amount of money.

Now the town doesn't have to worry about replacing and operating much of that old equipment, he said. The town was also able to reduce its staff by one, through attrition.

So far, Cantu said, residents have been receptive to the change.

He said he only asks that people read the Recycling Center's signs before throwing anything away.

He said the new system does at least fulfill a philosophical goal.

"What's best for the environment?" he said.

Dylan Martin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or dmartin@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DylanLJMartin.