Auburn committee weighing recycling, pay-per-bag options

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AUBURN — Expanding the city’s recycling program could save up to $7 million over 10 years — if residents are willing to purchase special trash bags.

Members of the city’s Solid Waste and Recycling Committee outlined three basic options for Auburn’s trash and recycling program going forward. The city could continue the twice-monthly collections, switch to an automated collection system or switch to a pay-as-you-throw system. Under that system, trash trucks would only collect trash in special bags.

The group, several Auburn residents picked by Mayor Jonathan LaBonte to study the city’s trash collection options, also outlined a fourth option that combined the automatic collection program with the pay-as-you-throw option.

Chairwoman Camille Parrish said the group is looking for public input on the three options before reporting to city councilors.

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“Upcoming contracts are ending and being renegotiated so this is a good time for us to look longer term,” Parrish said. “We are looking at a 10-year vision of what we wanted our program to look like, and our overall goal is to reduce our costs for trash and recycling.”

The city picks up solid waste curbside weekly. Recyclables are collected twice a month. The city started the twice-monthly program in 2011, with less frequent collections meant to save money.

Councilors voted in the spring to preserve the city’s curbside recycling collections as they are operated now, with the understanding that services would expand in 2015.

Member Dan Johnson said tipping fees for Auburn’s Mid-Maine Waste Action Corp. incinerator are expected to go up significantly over the next 10 years — from $29 per ton to $41 per ton and beyond.

Johnson said that increase is built into the group’s financial forecasts.

“Ultimately that cost is going to have to be passed on and borne by the residents,” Johnson said. “So we used that information to look at the financial side here.”

Auburn has an 8 percent recycling rate. According to the group’s forecasts, continuing the recycling program at that rate will cost about $10.3 million over the next 10 years, including cost for disposing of recyclable material at MMWAC and running the program.

An automated program would cost the city about $8.7 million. Under that system, the city would contract with a company to collect trash and recyclables in one truck. That company would provide two sturdy bins, one for recycling and one for trash.

The truck would drive up to the special bins and automatically dump them.

Under the pay-as-you-throw plan, the city would sell special bags at local grocery stores. Bags would cost between $1 and $2 each. The cost of the bag would encourage residents to recycle more. That program would cost about $2.4 million over the next 10 years.

The fourth option, combining the automatic and pay-as-you-throw options, would cost the city $3.1 million over 10 years.

Six residents attended the meeting, along with City Councilors Tizz Crowley and Adam Lee.

Crowley said she was frustrated that committee members were not prepared to recommend an option to councilors, but Johnson said that was premature.

“We really have taken an investigative approach, so we can understand the dynamics,” Johnson said. “Then we want to put this out for public input to help guide us in whatever direction we recommend to the council.”

Crowley said she also wanted to make sure the committee spelled out specific savings that the pay-as-you-throw program would mean for residents.

“When we get a tax bill, I want to see evidence of savings on it,” Crowley said. “For many taxpayers, this is the only benefit they see from their taxes. This is a direct benefit for them, and we would end up charging a fee for it.”

staylor@sunjournal.com

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