Maine and the environment: How are we doing?

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To answer common questions about how Maine is doing to improve the environment, the Maine Department of Environmental Protection has compiled an environmental trends “dashboard” on its web page.

DEP scores categories one of three ways: a green circle for a positive trend; a yellow square for no change; and a red pentagon for a negative trend. Some of DEP’s explanations lack numbers for easy comparisons.

Of 13 categories, only recycling of solid waste got a red pentagon. Nine categories have a green, three a yellow. Based on that, Maine has more work to do but is doing respectably.

SUSTAINABILITY

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Municipal solid waste recycled — red — more work to do. Maine residents, municipalities and businesses recycled nearly 37 percent of municipal solid waste generated in 2015. Maine residents and businesses willingly participate in recycling programs, but many products are lighter in weight than they used to be, said George MacDonald of the DEP’s Sustainability Division of the Bureau of Land Resources. Plastic packaging is replacing glass containers, flexible packaging is replacing metal cans. While people are recycling, the weight of recyclables is decreasing, which can contribute to a lower tonnage.

MacDonald expects the recycling rate to improve as residents, businesses and institutions increase efforts to not waste food and support composting. Unused food and food scraps make up about 40 percent of the weight of waste thrown out.

Pounds of electronics collected — green — good progress. There’s a continued upward trend on the collection of electronic waste, successfully diverting these products from disposal to reuse and recycling.

Municipal sludge beneficially used — green — good. Wastewater treatment plant sludge was beneficially used at a rate of 75 percent in 2012, diverting the sludge from disposal or landfills.

Brownfield sites completed — green — good. Cleanups under the Federal Brownfields Grants program have increased in Maine, but the number of projects in the coming years could be cut if federal grant money is reduced.

Petroleum contaminated sites closed — yellow — so-so. The number of newly reported oil discharges varies, while the number of long-term remediation sites completed and closed depend on how many new sites emerge, along with site complexity and resources available to DEP.

AIR QUALITY

Ozone — green — good. All regions of Maine are meeting the 2015 ozone National Ambient Air Quality Standard.

Regional haze — green — good. Current monitoring shows that Class I areas in Maine have regional haze conditions better than the state implementation plan modeling.

Benzene concentrations — yellow — so-so. Benzene concentrations continue to be above the air guideline during the winter, but the trend remains steady year to year.

Greenhouse Gas — green — good. Maine is currently meeting the goals established by state law. That could change depending what happens with federal laws.

WATER QUALITY

Combined sewer overflows — green — good. Annual volume discharged has declined by nearly 40 million gallons per inch of rain and snow over the past 10 years.

Healthy beach days — green — good. Based on bacteria monitoring at Maine coastal beaches, the number of healthy swimming days has improved.

Lake clarity — green — good. Maine lakes continue to be among the finest in the country; most are considered environmentally “stable.”

Invasive aquatic plants — yellow — so-so. The volume and scope of public waters screened for invasive aquatic plants have been increasing.

Source: Maine Department of Environmental Protection

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