South Portland panel sets ambitious recycling goal, with eye toward limiting plastics, foam

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SOUTH PORTLAND — The Energy and Recycling Committee has set a goal for the city to raise the overall recycling rate from the current 28.74 percent, to 35 percent in two years and 40 percent in 2019.

The committee is also in the preliminary stages of constructing a proposal that would curb the use of single-use plastic bags and foam food containers in the city.

It is not yet clear whether a future proposal will follow on the coattails of Portland’s initiative to charge a nickel for single-use plastic bags and ban the commercial use of foam containers, which goes into effect April 15. 

The recycling goal is lofty for a city that has never broken 30 percent, committee member Mike Howe said, particularly when there is no incentive program. Nevertheless, he and other members of the committee want to see if they can help it happen.

“We need to educate the public,” Chairman Bob Foster said.

The committee believes an organized, collaborative approach between the city and the School Department is the way to go.

For the last month, committee members have been collecting data from the schools: which schools recycle, if they compost, how much polystyrene is used, and to what extent students are educated about how to do these things.

A handful of schools offer environmentally conscious alternatives to waste disposal; at South Portland High School, for example, a student- and teacher-led initiative helped bring the composting service, Garbage to Garden, to the school. The student group was recently honored by ecomaine with an eco-Excellence Award for its efforts. 

Unfortunately, committee member Todd Erickson said, most of the school initiatives have not been instituted by administration, but by invested teachers and students. 

“In the district, all recycling efforts are teacher-driven … there’s no general system, no support,” he said. 

Schools that do offer environmentally conscious options for waste are able to quantify how much waste they produce. For example, with the composting service at the high school, it was discerned that the service helps to divert nearly nine tons of waste annually. 

The effort to bolster recycling rates will be assisted even further with the help of Julie Rosenbach, the city’s new sustainability coordinator.

Rosenbach agreed to schedule meetings with top school administrators to get the conversation going. The committee also intends to invite principals from each school to its April meeting. 

A City Council workshop to discuss the fate of single-use plastic bags and foam products is expected to take place in the spring. 

Alex Acquisto can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or aacquisto@theforecaster.net. Follow Alex on Twitter: @AcquistoA.  

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South Portland and Scarborough reporter for The Forecaster. Graduate of Western Kentucky University and the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies. Alex can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106.