AUBURN — The City Council voted unanimously Monday night to eliminate the city recycling program from next year’s budget, pointing to a costly program that is only utilized by roughly 7% of residents.

The council voted to reappropriate the $227,000 toward a fund to pay for an eventual shift to an automated trash collection service.

The proposal to cut the program was made by Councilor Steve Milks and received a unanimous vote, with councilors arguing that the low participation rate and volatile recycling markets have plagued the program. Councilor Leroy Walker said bringing the material to Maine Waste to Energy on Goldthwaite, which incinerates it, is more cost effective.

Officials for a number of years have criticized the city’s program, including in 2019 when the same proposal to cut the program was made. Advocates for recycling have said once a curbside program is eliminated, it is extremely difficult to restart, and that while incinerating material produces energy, it also produces pollutants.

“I realize a lot of people have put in a lot of time and effort,” Milks said. “But it’s not working effectively for the amount of money it costs. Given the fiscal situation we’re in, it’s pertinent and practical.”


The council was also set Monday to conduct a first reading on next year’s municipal budget, but had not voted by midevening.

Other budget proposals can be made prior to the final reading May 15.

City Manager Phil Crowell said the city’s contractor for waste services, Casella, will soon mandate that all municipalities shift to an automated trash collection system, where specific bins are used that can be automatically picked up and dumped into a truck.

Councilors agreed with a proposal to use the $227,000 from the recycling program toward the estimated $500,000 price tag for the new trash bins, likely in fiscal 2025.

Crowell said he also supports the city expanding its access to composting programs.

Mayor Jason Levesque said that while the decision to eliminate the program “sounds harsh,” the recycling industry has “not rebounded” from its historic lows during the pandemic.

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