AUBURN — It was recycling day last Wednesday on Silver Moore-Leamon’s street. She had carefully sorted her recyclables and put them in a barrel marked “recycle” with a cover to keep contents dry.
The retired educator, who has a string of cloth grocery bags hanging on her door, said she’s “200%”committed to recycling.
But she’s frustrated because Auburn’s zero-sort recycling program doesn’t make it clear how to recycle correctly, she said.
And Moore-Leamon is unhappy to hear that Mayor Jason Levesque has suggested the city end recycling because of rising costs, low participation and the loss of the global recycling market. The City Council will discuss recycling at 5:30 p.m. Monday, May 13, at Auburn Hall.
Ending recycling “would be suicide. Just look at all the trash piling up. Our trash now, so much of it doesn’t decompose,” Moore-Leamon said.
Holding up a plastic pill bottle, she said, “This will be around for my great-great-great-grandchildren to deal with. That’s horrible.”
Somehow the public needs to understand that all of the trash “doesn’t go away. There is no ‘away’ to throw things to.”
Incinerating isn’t a good solution, either, she said.
“Incinerating the trash puts pollutants into the air, and even more significantly, wastes the recyclable materials included in the trash,” Moore-Leamon said. “It would also become one more element of human-made climate change.”
Instead of ending recycling, the city should ask concerned citizens willing to donate some time “to find out what kind of recycling actually works for municipalities,” she said. “Don’t ask the city to pay for it. If we get a group of committed citizens to do the research and find out what works, then put it into effect.”
She would be willing to serve on such a committee, Moore-Leamon said.
The 85-year-old said she was a child of the Depression. “The things we did as a matter of course because we didn’t have money are things we ought to be doing now, because we know there’s no ‘away’ to throw things to.”
Her household has a vegetable garden and they compost.
For recycling, “We use the Auburn system, but it’s impossible to understand, not that they don’t try.”
The city used to give out recycle bins and information to put on the refrigerator on how to recycle bottles, cans, newspapers and hard plastic.
Since zero-sort recycling began, “It’s not effective,” Moore-Leamon said. With the best intentions “you can end up contaminating it” by putting in items not recyclable.
She offered a show-and-tell with some of her own household waste that’s not easy to recycle.
One item was an Ensure bottle. The recycle triangle on the bottom of the bottle says No. 5 plastic, which is recyclable, but the bottle is covered with a plastic wrap, which is not. There’s some metal on the bottle, and the cap is a different plastic than the bottle.
“I know it’s not a 5,” she said, referring to the cap. To recycle correctly, “I take the top off, then get a knife and slit this (plastic casing), and pry under to cut that (metal) band.”
She throws the plastic wrap and metal in the trash, leaving a plastic bottle to recycle.
She held up a soup container. The hard plastic bowl had some kind of paper label glued on it that was impossible to remove.
She held up another hard plastic container she got at Hannaford that once held dried herbs. It had an easy-to-pull-off label, which she pulled off, so she could recycle just the hard plastic.
“I could do everything right, but if my neighbor doesn’t, then the whole load can be contaminated,” she said.
The answer is to explain to the public that recycling is tricky, “but we must do it for the future of our kids and the planet.”
A big part of the solution is more environmental-minded packaging from manufacturers. Corporations need to reduce waste, and make and sell things in containers that can be easily recycled, Moore-Leamon said.
“Everything is packaged and packaged and packaged,” she said.
Sarah Lakeman of the Natural Resources Council of Maine, said Moore-Leamon is correct, that companies who are profiting from selling “all of this wasted material” need to help.
A proposal before state lawmakers that is supported by the Maine Municipal Association, L.D. 1431, would require those who sell packaged products to help pay for municipal recycling programs. (See related story.)
The bill could “finally let Maine reach our 50 percent recycling goal established in 1989,” Lakeman testified last month before state lawmakers. Despite good intentions, Maine’s recycling rate has remained stagnant for years, and now is falling.
Sharing responsibility for waste management with those who make and sell products would send the right incentives to not only producers but to citizens and municipalities, which are now seeing steep increases in recycling costs, Lakeman said.