AUBURN — Dom Casavant worries that the city's recycling program may not recover from taking a year off.
"People will get out of the habit of doing that, and I think it'll be very hard for them to get back in that groove," said Casavant, local recycling advocate and a member of the city's Solid Waste Committee. "We've spent a lot of time trying to get people into the habit and we've done a lot getting the schools to recycle. It's a shame the city's not doing the same."
Auburn councilors decided Monday to temporarily stop curbside recycling collections, beginning in July. The city's recycling trucks will be parked at the Mid-Maine Waste Action Corp. lot on Goldthwaite Road. People who want to continue recycling can bring their old newspapers, cans and cardboard there.
"We're doing away with a process that is a natural responsibility of the city," Casavant said. "We're going to have to work harder and harder next year to get it back."
The city operates its own recycling program, with two city-owned trucks collecting and sorting recyclable materials left curbside by residents. An older truck is parked at MMWAC.
City Manager Glenn Aho said the trucks need maintenance and the city must either hire more people to drive the trucks or agree to pay the drivers more overtime to keep the existing program running.
The city's solid waste trash collections contract with Pine Tree Waste is due to expire in June 2011, and Aho said the city should consider combining trash collections and recycling under a new contract.
On Monday, Aho asked councilors how they wanted to proceed for the next year while they negotiate a new solid waste contract. He suggested they consider hiring a firm to collect the city's recycling for that year. His budget included $210,000 to pay for some form of curbside recycling.
But councilors decided they'd rather end the curbside recycling program for one year while they negotiate a new contract.
Casavant said he favored doing something to boost city recycling rates. Between 5 and 20 percent of Auburn residents currently recycle, down from the 1998 peak of 45 percent.
"Part of it is the process, the way we do it," Casavant said. Drivers have to sort the recycling at the curb, taking the material out of residents' bins and sorting it into containers on the trucks.
"That means they have to stop the truck, get out, sort things and leave the truck idling the whole time," he said. "It's very inefficient, very wasteful."
He's an advocate for single-sort recycling, letting residents dump everything in one bin for collection. Everything would be sorted at a special facility.
Casavant also favors charging a fee for regular trash collections to boost recycling.
"If we had a pay-per-bag system, we'd actually have a solid-waste system now that is self-sustaining," he said. "It wouldn't need more money from the city."
Monday's decision makes Auburn the largest Maine city without curbside recycling collections. According to the Maine State Planning Office, 52 communities offer single-stream curbside collections; 63 require residents to buy special bags for the rest of their trash collections.
George McDonald, manager of waste management and recycling at the State Planning Office, said he was confident the city would find a good alternative to the current program, even if it takes a year to develop.
"Many communities have talked about dropping curbside recycling, but they find that their residents do appreciate the convenience," he said. "Auburn has been very aggressive about recycling in the past, and we trust that will continue. We view this as a temporary change."