Rising cost threatens Brunswick recycling program

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BRUNSWICK — There’s a tough financial reality for recycling programs across the country: earning less on the sale of materials and paying more to process what residents put in their recycling bins. 

Brunswick isn’t immune to the national trend.

Town Manager John Eldridge’s municipal budget proposal would change the way the town’s recyclables are processed and save $40,000 a year if town councilors decided to stop recycling all materials, including metal, plastic and paper. 

“The processing of recyclable materials is getting more expensive and the town could save a pretty good chunk of change if we landfilled those items,” Eldridge said.

According to Eldridge, there is $332,000 in the budget for processing recyclables and trash for the current fiscal year, estimating the cost at $80 per ton. Because of the cost of recycling has gone up to $120 a ton, $470,000 is being budgeted for fiscal year 2020.

A public hearing for the municipal budget was scheduled for May 2, after The Forecaster’s deadline.

“It might not sound like a lot is being saved, but what question I wanted to pose to the councilors was, at what point do we keep spending more and more to process these recyclable materials,” Eldridge said. “Certain materials aren’t being purchased anymore because there just isn’t a market for it.”

Eldridge said the curbside pickup program would remain. Residents who recycle wouldn’t have to do anything different.

Ultimately though, the recyclable materials wouldn’t be recycled.

“I am not anti-recycling, but this problem is happening everywhere,” Eldridge said. “My job at budget season is to see where we can save money.”

Eldridge said the town could even opt-in to landfill the recyclable materials until the cost of processing those materials goes down.

In previous budget meetings, most councilors present said they would vote against any such change. Eldridge said because of the councilors’ stance on the issue, he will include the original $470,000 in the budget for fiscal year 2020.

Dan Ankeles said he is “unequivocally” against the policy change, regardless of how much money it saves the town.

“I know $40,000 isn’t a small amount of money, but when you think of the long term, is it really worth breaking our bad recycling habits for,” Ankeles said. “I am aware of that need to whittle down the budget, but I will not advocate against recycling, especially given the state our planet is now.

“I will even make a motion to vote against this to make sure it doesn’t come up at all, again,” Ankeles added. “I have had many people come to me upset about this issue and I will make sure I do everything I can to avoid changing the way we process recycling.”

Other councilors have concerns about how much it is costing the town to recycle and think saving the town money could be an adequate short-term plan.

“We don’t have to landfill these items forever,” said Councilor Jane Millett. “This could be a short-term solution to help this budget go down.” 

“Our landfill in town is set to close in the near future,” Millett said. “We might as well save the town money, fill up that landfill then re-evaluate what to do in the future.”

Patti McDonald can be reached at 780-9123 or pmcdonald@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @pmcdonaldme.

Town Manager John Eldridge said the price of processing recyclable material has gone up substantially. As a result, the town landfill could be where recyclables end up.

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