REGION — More than a year after the pandemic came to Oxford Hills some things have settled down a bit. Early shortages of staples like pasta, canned soup, toilet paper and kitty litter seem to be in the rear view mirror. The economy meter is ticking its way in the right direction. Mainers can anticipate shedding their face coverings – at least in outdoor settings.

One phenomenon, or consequence, of the pandemic seems to be holding on: decluttering. A productive way to pass the time while sheltering in place, the movement of hardcore cleaning has become a thing.

Per Maine governor’s mandate, recycling centers across the state closed down last spring during the public health emergency. Looking for ways to make it easier for residents to properly recycle and dispose of large items, Oxford eliminated its transfer station disposal coupons and charges for all materials except construction debris. When the town’s transfer station reopened, the stream of people getting rid of tires, metal, old furniture and plastics continued through year-end and into this spring.

Even though the recycling center closed down for two months and residents were allowed to mix recycling with household waste during that period, Oxford managed to increase its recycling rate, according to Transfer Station Manager Ed Knightly.

Knightly said that in 2019 the town’s overall recycling rate was 61.56% and slightly climbed to 62.84% in 2020.

“According to the ordinance, recycling in Oxford is mandatory,” Knightly said. “It is hard to enforce so we can only encourage it. But it’s going in the right direction.”

The Norway & Paris Solid Waste Transfer Station, which serves those two and other surrounding communities has also seen increases since the pandemic. According to data tracking of recycled materials, the solid waste transfer station took in close to 100 tons last year.

Municipal waste disposal and recycling have increased since the pandemic,” said Facility Manager Nancy Lee Piper. “We have much higher rates of disposal and recycling. It is busier than usual and has been since March 13, 2020.

Patrons who were furloughed or lost jobs are cleaning out and cleaning up, and those patrons with discretionary income are repairing, remodeling and renovating.”

Piper said that commercial customers have such a volume of waste that she has to wait-list them to keep from being overrun. She has also seen more rental property owners and residents dropping off due to more clean-outs and renovations.

Annual Earth Day clean-up projects are adding to the volumes coming into facilities. Groups like the Rotary Club of Oxford Hills and Oxford Trail Ryders organized groups to collect trash roadside and in public spaces.

Spoke Folks, the Norway-based the cooperative that uses a custom cargo trailer powered by bicycles to provide green disposal and composting services, dispersed more than 30 volunteers on April 24 to clean up around Lake Pennesseewassee and the downtown area. According to Spoke Folks’ Facebook page, the group collected more than 500 pounds of trash in just three hours.

Since then, Spoke Folks decided that annual clean-ups are not enough. Piggy-backing on downtown Norway’s First Fridays, it will hold neighborhood clean-ups each month and use that time to educate the community on ways to reduce waste and increase recycling.

Through its Facebook page, Spoke Folks invites any individuals concerned with litter and trash, or interested in logging community service hours to participate. Organizations working to reduce local waste are also encouraged to take part.

The first First Friday Cleanup is schedule for June 4 from 4 – 7 p.m. Send an email to [email protected] for more information.

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