AUBURN — The City Council has formed a committee to assess the curbside recycling program, holding off for now on a previous call to suspend the program because of community concerns.

The vote to form a committee came after discussions in recent weeks over the city’s twice-monthly recycling pickup, which some officials have argued is proving more costly than beneficial as markets for some materials are down significantly.

Councilor Andy Titus and Mayor Jason Levesque last week suggested the city suspend its curbside program for a year while a new committee assesses the state of recycling and potential changes.

The council decided Monday to form the committee but not to suspend curbside collection.

Concerned environmental advocates said they supported the decision to continue with the recycling program.

After some debate, councilors voted to shorten the time frame of the committee from 12 to six months, with an option to extend for another six months. The new committee was approved by a 6-1 vote, with Councilor Holly Lasagna opposed based on its shortened scope.

According to the resolve adopted by councilors, the committee’s purpose is to “determine the environmental impact of the program as it currently exists,” compare the city’s current model to other models that it could adopt and “conduct a cost/benefit analysis, including the financial and environmental costs that are avoided by the production of post-recycled consumer goods.”

It goes on to say, “We know there are increased recycling costs and a portion of previously recycled materials are going to landfills and incinerators,” and, “we need to adapt to a changing marketplace and share strategies on how other municipalities have responded to these new challenges.”

The committee will also be expected to work with city staff to develop an educational plan for the community, including the current recycling practice or any adopted changes.

Prior to the vote, Auburn resident Sam Boss, the assistant director of community engaged learning and research at Bates College, was among those who urged the council not to suspend the program.

He argued that at a time when climate change has received heightened and warranted attention, suspending the program would signal to young people “that we’re not thinking of your future.”

Boss offered his program’s support to the city toward educational campaigns or research.

He also read comments from Camille Parrish, an environmental studies professor at Bates College.

In response to the council’s discussion on preferred methods of disposing of waste, including an argument that all of the city’s waste should be taken to the Maine Waste-to-Energy incinerator, Parrish said “reduce, reuse and recycle” is the “No. 1” preferred method, followed in order by composting, processing and beneficial use, waste-to-energy and landfills.

She said previous discussions have not made a “clear distinction between trash and materials suitable for recycling.”

“All the material incinerated in the waste-to-energy plant are destroyed forever,” Parrish said. “Materials that are recycled are reused to create secondary products we use and benefit from.”

Her prepared statement also said incinerating trash, while producing energy, produces pollutants such as dioxin, which the plant’s air pollution control system neutralizes by using 2.5 million pounds of lime per year, along with activated carbon and other methods.

The resulting pollution is one reason recycling is preferred before solid waste is incinerated, she said.

The argument for not halting the recycling program has also centered on the idea that it is a learned behavior. Boss said achieving recycling as a “habit” relies on “sustained education and practice.”

“Continuing our recycling program uninterrupted is crucial,” he said.

Silver Moore-Leamon, known to neighbors as an avid recycler, told the council Monday that residents are concerned about recycling. She acknowledged it has become difficult for even the most educated recyclers to get it right, but she urged the council to create the committee, which could eventually lead to more education and outreach. She also offered to serve on the committee.

Chrissy Adamowicz, the Sustainable Maine outreach coordinator for the Natural Resources Council of Maine, told the council that the NRCM recognizes “the challenges municipalities face with the changing costs of recycling programs, and it’s unfair to have to choose between Maine’s most valuable asset, the environment, and your bottom line.”

She urged Auburn officials to support a bill that would create a sustainable funding stream for recycling programs and asked the councilors to keep the city’s recycling program intact.

She said Auburn would be the first major municipality in Maine to cut its recycling program.


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