Auburn quietly tests single-stream recycling

AUBURN — The city has been quietly testing single-stream recycling for the past several weeks, picking up the sorted bins curbside and emptying them into a single hopper on the city's truck.

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"For the recycling homeowner, there was no change," Public Works Director Bob Belz said. "We've been using it as an opportunity to see what efficiencies we could realize by going one way or the other. But it's not a permanent change, until councilors say so."

Belz said the city actually had little choice but to make the change. 

Auburn has contracted with Lewiston to take its sorted recycling for several years. Auburn's trucks would take its sorted paper, plastic, metal and glass to Lewiston's landfill, where it would join other piles of sorted recycling. That material was sold on the recycling commodities market, and Lewiston shared those revenues — minus some administrative costs — with Auburn.

Auburn has a woeful recycling rate. The city's recycled 3,418 tons compared to 22,162 tons of municipal solid waste for a recycling rate of 15.42 percent.

For comparison, Pownal had the best recycling rate in southern Maine, recycling 47 percent of total waste.

But that deal ended in July, when Lewiston formally switched to single-stream recycling. Belz said Auburn worked out a short-term deal with Lewiston to take Auburn's recyclables until the city settles on a permanent decision.

"Where our material was going, it was all unsorted," Belz said. "So, we decided to take the baffles out of the truck and go single stream."

Belz said he's recommending Auburn follow Lewiston's lead and make the single-stream change permanent.

"Our marching orders have been to provide the best value for the city," Belz said. "That's what we think this does."

Belz said Auburn took in $56,466 in revenue in recycling sales last year from its shared program with Lewiston.

The city received several bids from contractors who would manage Auburn's recycling program. The best bid came from Almighty Waste, which offered the city $29,995 in revenues.

But Belz said he's seen savings in labor and benefits, fuel and truck maintenance since the city stopped curbside sorting. He estimates those savings would add up to $42,870 per year.

"We normally have two trucks out doing the routes," Belz said. "But since we began testing single sort, the driver has to spend less time at each stop. We've been able to easily finish all of our routes each day with one truck."

Belz said he never publicized the change because he didn't want Auburn residents to get used to it.

"It doesn't make sense for them to change if we end up going back to curbside sorting, and that's a very real possibility," Belz said. 

Ed Desgrosseilliers, of 121 Hatch Road, said the unpublicized change upset him. 

Desgrosseilliers, vice chairman of the city's recycling and solid waste committee, told councilors Monday night that the group's work was never given a fair hearing by city staff and was never brought before city councilors.

"I didn't know anything about it, and I put my recycling out, carefully sorted into bins, and the guy just threw them all in the truck," Desgrosseilliers said. "I would've liked to strangle the guy. Apparently, it doesn't matter what a citizens committee recommends. The staff is just going to do what it wants."

Councilors are scheduled to discuss the fate of the recycling program at their Aug. 15 workshop, and said they wanted to hear from Desgrosseilliers and the rest of the recycling committee.

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KRIS KUCERA's picture

Facts are stubborn things:

Our #1 export to China is . . . trash. Now we can argue the semantics of the words "trash" and "recyclables" if you'd like to, but they're still our waste, rubbish, refuse, junk.

And if you can read, you can see that I am not against single stream. It beats landfilling, as I plainly wrote. I am simply identifying some of its dark side that doesn't get talked about. How cavalier of me.

Obviously trash gets burned for energy. (See: MMWAC's facility in Auburn.) Still, you can talk about high-tech scrubbers and whatnot, but the sludge and exhaust from the burn is bad stuff. I'm not saying not to do it; I'm simply saying it isn't remotely a friendly environmentally process. No energy production process is. That's the Catch-22. Duh.

Three's a charm. Goodnight.

KRIS KUCERA's picture

My goodness

So I'm supposed to list multiple sources in a blog entry? US News & World Report isn't "fair and balanced" enough for ya? You need someone's phone tapped to verify your story, Mr. Murdoch and Mrs. Brooks?

Robert, what do you think happens to the metal shipping containers that come here full of goods from China? (We have a huge trade deficit, remember?) They have to get shipped back. Thus, they're often filled with our junk, trash, and scrap for the trip back East. And even then, many of the containers go back EMPTY. That's right, we're sometimes shipping absolutely nothing due to our massive Chinese trade deficit. Why? The metal containers are extrememly valuable, and the Chinese have plenty of more goods to sell us, cheap. (

Tell me now that we don't actually ship the containers back -- we teleport them.

It's clear that any more time spent trying to critically argue with you is a total waste of my time. Get your last word in if you prefer; I shall respond to you, or this topic, no more.

 's picture


I don't think critical thought equates to negativity at all.

I was specifically responding to your post and the many like it that I read here in response to the Sun Journal articles.

KRIS KUCERA's picture

Therefore . . .

Critical thought = negativity? Sorry to make you stop and have to think that maybe it ain't all roses, dear. My bad.

 's picture

I did pause and think about it and

it sure seems like somebody always has to be the Negative Nelly or Wendy Whiner in these comment streams, doesn't it?

I am glad that Lewiston has moved to single-stream recycling and it does mean that we are throwing less trash in landfills than we have been in the past. I do not consider myself lazy, just a very busy mom of four so if my recyling is made simpler AND I can recyle more - I am very pleased.

We must take baby steps in the right direction in order for larger-scale change to happen. I do hope that Auburn chooses to follow suit.


KRIS KUCERA's picture

Four Dirty Secrets of Single Stream

1) Single stream clearly benefits China. They have far cheaper labor to further sort the commodities, extracting maximum value. And let's face it: many Americans are anything but diligent recyclers. (While, indeed, some, even in business, take it seriously.) Basically, single stream is good for the lazy [feces in the plural].

2) All the non-recyclables mixed in the single stream get incinerated to generate electricity. Energy, good. The heavy-metal-laden toxic ash dumped in leaky landfills, and the dioxins and other polluting exhaust, bad.

3) America's #3 export is trash and recyclables. *gulp*

4) America sells China our garbage, which then gets reformed into the cheap Chinese goods we Americans so happily purchase at Wal-Mart, Home Depot, Best Buy, et al. (Happy Shopping, America. Do you have your credit card ready?)

However, when push comes to shove, single stream beats throwing all our waste in landfills like we did so complacently last century. Selah.


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