Rollie and Joan Heckethorn drop off their recycling Sept. 19 at the Auburn Public Works drop-off containers on Gracelawn Road in Auburn. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal file

AUBURN — The City Council voted 7-0 Monday night to reinstate a curbside recycling program after renegotiating with contractor Casella just a few months after ending its biweekly pickup.

According to City Manager Phil Crowell, the details of a new program starting Nov. 1 have been agreed upon with Casella, which will include a mobile app with service alerts and public education efforts.

The new program, also conducted biweekly, would operate much the same but will ask residents not to include glass or metals.

Crowell said the city’s effort to examine its recycling program was to nail down which materials are being recycled by Casella and which are ultimately sent to landfills.

The city has argued that it is cheaper to send material to Maine Waste to Energy, where it is incinerated, than to pay for a curbside program.

Crowell said in the last dozen years, recycling in Auburn has been volatile. And there have been several committees that have looked at ways to make it better.

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“Recycling is not an easy market for communities to manage,” he said. “Curbside collection is expensive.”

Crowell said one of the repeated recommendations has been better marketing and education on which materials can be recycled. He said under the new agreement, Casella will make an app available to customers to provide education.

In September, the council approved a pilot program that would have returned curbside pickup in designated areas of the city, and then based on data comparisons to its drop-off site at Auburn Public Works on Gracelawn Road, officials planned to decide whether to fund a full curbside program during next year’s budget talks.

Crowell said while it was initially just going to be three wards, the agreement was made to reinstate the program to any existing solid waste customer.

He said the city will also continue to have drop-off containers at Public Works.

Over the last two months, the city’s evolving drop-off only program and lack of curbside pickup led to criticism from residents.

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Mayor Jason Levesque said Monday that the goal was “always to bring it back citywide.”

“But, bring it back better than before, with more education and more effective recycling,” he said.

The city’s agreement with Casella is for eight months starting in November at a cost of $153,512. Accepted materials will include No. 1, No. 2 and No. 5 plastics, cardboard, and mixed paper.

According to a city memo, the program will also feature the use of a “Waste Wizard Tool,” which allows users to scan items to determine whether or not they can be recycled.

The city has also asked for periodic reporting of data collected by Casella, to include program participation by household.

The memo said the Auburn Sustainability Workgroup supports the reintroduction of curbside recycling and will work with city staff in preparing a request for proposals for a new contract to begin July 1, 2024.

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