BIDDEFORD — Multi-family properties that have curbside recycling paid for by the city of Biddeford have high levels of contamination, according to the Public Works Department. As a result, the City Council is considering taking action that could end the recycling service for these properties.
Based on a study during which the city’s Public Works Department examined material deposited in recycling receptacles from the 54 multi-family properties of six units or more that use the city’s curbside recycling pick up program — these properties are considered “grandfathered” — it found that between 30 to 35 percent of that product was contaminated. Plastic bags are the biggest culprit, Public Works Director Jeff Demers said during a telephone interview last week.
The company that processes the city’s recycling would like the contamination rate of all the city’s recyclable material brought down to 5 percent or lower. If that doesn’t happen in the near future, the city could incur financial penalties Demers said.
On Nov. 20, the council directed that the Solid Waste Commission to look into how to deal with recyclables from the grandfathered multi-family properties and “come up with a game plan,” Demers said
Curbside pick up of recycling began in 2013. Pick up of recyclables was part of the deal struck when the city purchased the Maine Energy Recovery Company trash incinerator in 2012 from Casella Waste Systems for $6.65 million. Casella-owned Pine Tree Waste provides curbside pick up of recyclables and that material is brought to a Casella-owned facility in Westbrook. The city of Biddeford continues to provide curbside pick up service for most residents’ waste, including those grandfathered properties.
Pine Tree picks up about 130,000 tons of recyclable material each month, Demers said. The fist year of the contract the city paid Pine Tree $375,00 to pick up its recyclable material. The cost goes up each year of the 10-year contract, based on the Consumer Price Index, he said.
Much of the recyclable material from around the country, including Maine was sold to China in the past. But because much of this material is contaminated, last year China stopped accepting many forms of recyclable material from plastics to unsorted paper and this year stopped accepting steel waste, used auto parts, and other material.
Now instead of getting paid for recyclables, it costs money to get rid of this material.
When Biddeford undertook the program establishing curbside pick up recycling, residential properties were included in the program but most commercial properties were not. Multi-family residential properties of six or more units are considered by the city to be commercial, but City Council allowed some of these buildings, which it grandfathered, to participate in the program.
According to a Nov. 13 memo produced by the Public Works Department addressed to the City Council, recycling audits conducted by the PWD “continue to indicate that the greatest amount of (recycling) contamination appears to be coming from multi-family dwelling units.”
To reach the targeted 5 percent total contamination rate of recyclable material for the city, the PWD listed a number of options that could be undertaken.
One option would be better enforcement and violations by a property could result in that property being kicked out of the recycling program. That choice would be labor intensive and cost about $27,300, according to the memo.
Other options include removing the grandfathered status of multi-family properties of six or more units, with the possibility of reinstating it if the recycling program proves to be effective; or eliminating both trash and recycling curbside pick up of multi-family units of three or more, which could save the city more than $100,000.
Dealing with plastic bags is another option being considered. “These bags are reportedly responsible for a significant amount of contamination and adverse processing issues; mainly clogging conveyors and pulleys and causing fires as the bags heat up due to the clogs,” according to the menu.
Banning plastic bags, like Saco, Kennebunk and other communities is one possibility being considered and/or educating the public on where plastic bags can be brought to be recycled is another. However, “educating users to return the bags rather than disposing of them will be a challenge,” the memo states.
So far, the city has been trying to deal with the contamination problem through education. A variety of ways to educate the public about the issue have been undertaken, such as an airing an educational video on the city’s public access station and handing out education flyers.
Once the Solid Waste Commission comes up with its recommendations, those will go to the Policy Committee and from there to the council, which is scheduled to have an initial vote on the issue on Feb. 5.
— Associate Editor Dina Mendros can be contacted at 780-9014 or firstname.lastname@example.org.