LEWISTON — With the city’s shift to an automated trash pickup system on the horizon, the City Council voted 4-3 Tuesday to issue a request for proposals rather than immediately renew a contract with Casella Waste Systems.

Based on recent history, officials are all but certain that Casella will remain the city’s solid waste contractor through the transition, but councilors Tuesday argued that conducting a bid process would ensure the most competitive pricing.

Some, however, argued that it’s a waste of time as city staff begins to work out the details of Lewiston’s shift to an automated system, which will require more than 10,000 new trash bins for residents.

According to a staff memo, the solid waste industry as a whole is transitioning to what’s known as “automated side-load waste collection” due to a history of worker-related injury. The trucks and bins are specifically designed for trash to be automatically lifted and dumped.

During initial discussions in 2022, staff said the current system allows households to place trash bags by the curb and recyclables in a lidless container, often resulting in loose trash and debris on the streets. Crows are often seen pecking away at loose bags, and city staff has long struggled with compliance with its waste ordinance.

Staff said the shift to automated pickup is tentatively planned for the spring of 2026.


Asked whether to enter negotiations with Casella or pursue a bid process, councilors decided to seek proposals.

According to staff, bids are only likely to be returned by two vendors: Casella and Waste Management, which only has one other contract in the state.

Councilors preferring to stick with Casella said the company already knows the city, and also has a recycling facility in Lewiston that allows the city to send recycling material there without paying tipping fees. Casella has been the city’s solid waste contractor for the past 25 years.

“Don’t fix what’s not broken,” Councilor Eryn Soule-Leclair said..

David Chittim, however, said that since Casella essentially has a “monopoly” on solid waste collection in the state, and the bid process could “make certain we’re being given competitive pricing.”

“My nagging fear is that we’d be putting them in the position to be the only contractor in the state of Maine and giving them carte blanche to set prices however they want,” he said.


Staff said that during a previous bid process, Casella’s bid came in at roughly half the cost of the next bid. The cost of trash collection was $856,000 in 2022.

During public comment, Robert Reed, who has served on the Finance Committee and a former solid waste task force, said he typically doesn’t like “no-bid contracts,” but “this is the exception.”

“We’ll find the same thing we do every time. No one else can come close,” he said. “You’re wasting time guys.”

Kevin Gagne, director of Public Works, said going out to bid would likely add about two to three months to the overall process, but he did not offer an opinion for the council.

“To be fair, this is not an easy decision,” he said, adding that with a new vendor or the rollout of the automated system, there is bound to be hiccups and concerns from residents. “We’re going to be in this together.”

Gagne said the city could also negotiate a longer 10-year contract with Casella over a short-term option, which could also save the city money. Either way, the city will have to negotiate terms regarding the shift to automated pickup, he said. That includes how to pay for about 10,700 new bins and the rules surrounding bin replacements.


He said the city’s five-year capital improvement plan includes $1.6 million for the bins, but staff would prefer that the city not own the bins. The city will also have to decide the cost of bins, and especially for owners of multiunit buildings. One plan would give each homeowner one bin for free.

Councilors Soule-Leclair, Tim Gallant and Susan Longchamps opposed the bid process.

Nagine said the city should also do more to increase recycling, especially due to its current arrangement with Casella that costs the city nothing to recycle.

Lewiston and Auburn have historically held some of the lowest recycling rates in Maine.

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