BOWDOINHAM — Bowdoinham selectmen are weighing the future of the town’s recycling program as costs continue to rise for the town to dispose of residents’ trash and recyclables.
According to Town Manager Tom Woodin, the town’s multi-year contract with Casella Waste Systems has expired. While selectmen are considering a new contract, the new rates as of Jan. 1 will result in an estimated $25,000 increase in disposal fees for the town’s solid waste and recycling. January rates were at $146 per ton for recycling.
About $11,000 of the anticipated $25,000 increase covers the cost of curbside pickup of recyclables. The board of selectmen voted last week to continue the service for the next six months and to cover the cost increase by taking $8,000 from the town’s contingency budget and $5,000 from the recycling barn reserve account. Selectmen had also discussed cutting curbside recycling in light of the rate increases.
Curbside collection of recycling accounts for about 25% of the recyclable material collected at the town’s recycle barn on Post Road, “which seems to indicate it’s a service that is significantly used by the people of the town,” said Selectman David Engler.
Engler also proposed an program to educate residents on how avoid contaminating recyclables with trash, which costs the town more to both sort through after the fact and to dispose.
Solid Waste Manager Bryan Benson told selectmen the curbside recycling pickup had a 35% contamination rate.
“We are paying a higher fee directly because of the contamination fee,” he said.
Other Midcoast communities are also struggling with rising recycling costs. Brunswick’s town manager John Eldridge said last fall he expects the town’s trash and recycling costs to triple in 2020, jumping from $40 per ton to $120 per ton. The town’s recycling committee also considered eliminating curbside collection, which it determined would just be cost-shifting.
Topsham’s former town manager Rich Roedner said in May 2019 that Topsham expected the same rate increase as Brunswick, and would continue the recycling program another year before considering changes. The town of Freeport budgeted an additional $50,000 to cover the estimated recycling contamination fee they expect to see this year. Officials there are also looking at ways to mitigate the growing costs.
Increased recycling costs are being felt around the world, largely because of a 2017 decision by the Chinese government to stop taking highly contaminated recycling and place restrictions on certain recyclables, including mixed paper like magazines, office paper, junk mail and most plastics.
Erica Bayley of Cassella told the board earlier this year that the recycling market is flooded, and contamination is costing the company more in staffing to sort through it all.
If the town doesn’t get a handle on the contamination, board Chairman Tony Lewis said the rates could continue to increase.
“Our options are fairly limited,” he said.