Michael Polk drops off his recyclables June 30 at Auburn’s new 24-hour recycling bins on Gracelawn Road near the resident sand shed and brush drop-off area. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

AUBURN — The city’s solid waste contractor received 16.5 tons of recyclable material in July, the first month under a new, drop-off-only program created after the City Council eliminated its curbside pickup.

In June, 49 tons were collected curbside, and in 2022, the curbside program generated an estimated one million pounds of material, or an average of about 83,000 pounds per month.

Jeff Weld, director of communications for Casella Waste Systems, the city’s contractor, said that while the drop-off location in Auburn is relatively new, “it is working well and producing material with low contamination.”

In May, the City Council voted to eliminate the curbside recycling program, arguing that incinerating material at Maine Waste to Energy in Auburn would be cheaper and more sustainable than continuing a struggling recycling program. However, some pushed back on the sustainability argument while also stating that Auburn’s biweekly pickup — with uncovered containers and little education efforts — was doomed to fail.

Dan Goyette, public services director in Auburn, said Thursday that the city had “nothing to report yet” regarding the retooled program. He said the city is billed monthly by Casella and had not seen July figures yet.

Auburn’s curbside program had been struggling to boost its participation rate and contamination rate — the amount of material that cannot be recycled and is instead landfilled or incinerated. Several city officials questioned how much material was ultimately being recycled, and argued that Auburn shouldn’t pay a premium to have material picked up that would then end up in a landfill.


However, those in favor of the program, including members of a city sustainability committee, said if a recycling program is properly run, it reduces the amount of material entering the waste stream.

When asked, Weld said “the narrative that recyclables are simply being landfilled, is false.”

“All of the noncontaminated recyclables that we collect and process are sold to end markets or put to beneficial use,” he said.

Weld said that while some of the glass that is processed in Maine does end up going to a landfill, it accounts for a small percentage of the overall stream, and there is often “an opportunity for beneficial use” as road base and/or landfill cover material.

Following Auburn’s decision to end its curbside program, the Sun Journal published an Op-ed by Bob Cappadona, vice president of resource solutions for Casella. Cappadona said the company was surprised by the decision, and that Auburn residents sent more than one million pounds of recyclables to the Casella recycling facility in Lewiston in 2022.

Cappadona also said in June that while the market for glass recyclables is “difficult” in the region, “residents should take comfort in knowing that their efforts were not going to waste.”

He also added that “from a greenhouse gas perspective, recycling is better than incineration for every category of material,” according to data from the Environmental Protection Agency, “so the decision to cancel recycling programs cannot be considered an environmental benefit by any reasonable measure.”

According to the city’s website, Auburn residents can drop their recyclable items at Auburn Public Works at 296 Gracelawn Road 24 hours per day, seven days a week. The recycling containers are near the resident sand shed and brush drop-off area. There are also compost bins available for those who wish to drop off compostable food waste, the website states.

An informational flyer provided by Casella shows what materials can be brought to Auburn’s recycling drop-off location on Gracelawn Road.

Related Headlines

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: