AUBURN — The City Council is expected to vote next week on whether to suspend its curbside recycling program for a year after officials questioned rising costs and declining participation.

During a workshop Monday, officials debated the merits of zero-sort recycling, with some suggesting the city’s bimonthly pickup be suspended temporarily in order to completely restructure the system.

A growing number of municipalities across the state, facing tough markets for recycled materials, have halted or reduced recycling programs, even as officials from environmental organizations are urging patience.

“I’m in favor of recycling but it looks like it needs to be remade,” Councilor Andy Titus said.

Titus said the city should form a committee, and in the meantime, “hold off on recycling. We have to fix it before going any further.”

Auburn Public Works Director Dan Goethe told the council the city pays Pine Tree Waste $125 per ton of recycled material, but with markets down, only sees roughly $20 a ton in return. A big issue for recycling plants like Casella is contaminated materials or materials that can’t be recycled, he said, which end up going to a landfill.


A number of councilors argued that it could be cheaper and perhaps better for the environment long-term to send all of the solid waste to Maine Waste to Energy in Auburn, which incinerates the material while producing energy.

Goyette said placing material in landfills creates more carbon dioxide than what’s produced at Maine Waste to Energy.

Titus suggested the city use the funds saved from halting curbside recycling for a year to revamp the program.

Some councilors, however, were not ready to abandon the current system, and did not agree that the city should suspend the program.

Councilor Holly Lasagna argued that “there’s a larger issue than just the cost” at play, and suggested the city has not pushed education on recycling.

“Single stream is not working for many reasons,” she said, but added, “We need a higher level of thinking in this community.”


Lasagna said there are other items the city could be looking at to help the environment, including a plastic bag ban or using help from Bates College students to study the numbers for the recycling program’s overall impact.

Councilor Bob Hayes said he believes the city should have a committee, but said, “in the meantime, we owe it to ourselves to continue (recycling), but with education on items that are valuable to recycle.”

Goyette said that as long as recycled material is clean it is recycled. Currently that means materials are sent to locations in Canada, Alabama or West Virginia. He said glass is not recycled due to markets.

But, he said, “the market could change tomorrow.”

“You could make a solid argument that you’re doing more harm than good by continuing this,” Mayor Jason Levesque said.

Representatives from the Natural Resources Council of Maine and Maine Department of Environmental Protection, speaking with the Sun Journal last week, urged municipalities to remain patient.


NRCM officials said more than 180,000 Mainers, representing 14 percent of the state’s population, live where recycling programs have been cut or restricted or are at risk.

Rather than putting additional taxpayer money into struggling programs, NRCM is advocating state lawmakers pass LD 1431 to help municipalities cover recycling costs. The bill calls for packaging-material producers to help pay for recycling.

On Monday, Lasagna echoed a previous argument from the Maine DEP, which is that if you halt a recycling program, it becomes more difficult for customers to simply pick it back up again after returning to throwing everything away.

Levesque said he expected a resolution on suspending the program would be on next week’s council agenda.

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