Augusta councilors to vote on cutting recycling sites

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AUGUSTA — Come Thursday, the city might lose two of its recycling collection points.

Augusta city councilors are expected to vote on whether to eliminate bins at two locations, an option raised after continued contamination of the recycling containers located at Augusta City Center and the police station.

City officials said they’ve tried having those bins hauled more frequently and paid staff to work overtime Saturdays to monitor them, but the problem has persisted, so the vote will come up on eliminating the only two drop-off locations where residents can bring their recyclables 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

City Manager William Bridgeo and Public Works Director Lesley Jones recommend getting rid of the two containers because too many people are putting nonrecyclables into the bins or leaving their discarded items around the containers when they’re full. Bridgeo said so much stuff gets left outside the bins when they’re full that the material — much of which, he said, isn’t even recyclable — blows around the parking lot and gets into the Kennebec River.

Bridgeo said the city has the bins emptied a couple of times a week, and Jones said they have them hauled off and dumped on Fridays to prepare for the weekend, but they still tend to fill up over the weekend. When that happens, they said, many people still have been leaving items next to the containers, creating an unsanitary and costly problem. The city pays about $200 a load to have the containers trucked to ecomaine’s Portland sorting facility to be processed, and if the bins are contaminated with too many nonrecyclables, an additional fee is assessed.

“It would increase our costs very substantially to have the bins dumped more frequently,” Bridgeo said Tuesday. “And (even if the city has them hauled more often), short of paying an employee, for all day on Sundays, to monitor them, I’m not sure we get away from the problems we’ve been experiencing.”

Three city councilors agreed last week to sponsor a proposal from At-large Councilor Corey Wilson to eliminate the two bins. The proposal goes to councilors for a vote at their 7 p.m. meeting Thursday in the council chamber at Augusta City Center.

That still would leave two locations where residents could drop off their unsorted recyclables for free — at the Hatch Hill landfill and the John Charest Public Works Facility, off North Street.

Hatch Hill users — which include Augusta residents and those of eight surrounding towns with contracts with the landfill — generally pay a fee to use the facility, but Jones said people who are taking only recyclables there are not charged a fee to do so.

The remaining two locations are monitored by city workers and thus haven’t had nearly the amount of contamination or other problems as the two proposed for elimination. But they’re available for use only when the two facilities are open.

Hatch Hill is normally open to the public from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. The Public Works Department is normally open to the public 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday to Friday.

Jones said the city has sometimes had employees work on Saturdays to monitor the bins proposed for removal — which helped while they were there — but the bins still ended up being used improperly when they weren’t being watched. She said the city can’t afford to have all the bins monitored around the clock.

The city moved a collection bin that previously was outside Buker Community Center to just outside the police station, hoping that would discourage people from misusing the bin. But that hasn’t been the case, according to Bridgeo and Jones, who said people still have been using it for nonrecyclables. At least one man even was summonsed on a charge of theft of services in September after, police allege, he refused to remove nonrecyclable items he had placed in the bin.

The city started the current single-sort recycling program, in which users don’t have to separate recyclable paper, glass and plastic from each other, in 2015.

Augusta is not alone in having difficulties with its recycling program, as regional recyclers have become stricter about contamination of materials because of changes in the international market for recyclable items.

Officials in the town of Manchester plan to eliminate the town’s single-sort recycling program at the end of the year because of rising costs resulting from contamination of its bin. Manchester’s lone bin is outside the Town Office, where it can be accessed around the clock, seven days a week.

In Readfield, where a single-sort recycling bin at the transfer station also is used by residents of Wayne and Fayette, contamination in bins has been rare since the town stepped up efforts to educate users on what is, and isn’t, recyclable. That bin is monitored by an attendant at the transfer station and is open only when the transfer station is open, four days a week.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj

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