SCARBOROUGH — Town officials and representatives from ecomaine say residents must be re-educated about changing their recycling habits.
They held a workshop May 1 to further develop a comprehensive public outreach program about what can and can’t be recycled.
The group discussed several educational methods, including sending letters to residents, regularly posting to Facebook, creating brief educational videos and putting up signs along the route of trash pick-up.
Ecomaine is a waste-to-energy plant-based in Portland that takes household trash and recycling from more than 70 municipalities in Maine.
“We’re talking about educating families and children, but I want to know how we plan to educate everyone else. … How we’ll educate seniors and those without children,” Town Councilor Jean-Marie Caterina said. “Some of us don’t know how to properly recycle, and door-to-door education prior to implementation should be looked at.”
Scarborough’s contamination rate, based on monthly reports from ecomaine, averages 23.1 percent.
Highly contaminated recycling loads may be “rejected” and processed as municipal solid waste. In January, 79 loads were rejected, adding up to more than $10,000 in additional costs to the town.
“Based on comments and feedback from people so far, our outreach has at least inspired them to think about their recycling habits,” Scarborough Sustainability Coordinator Jamie Fitch said. “This is our first try at this level of outreach prior to the start of our new internship program”
Scarborough, Falmouth, Windham, and the city of South Portland previously announced they will hire staff to perform inspections of residents’ recycling bins this summer to see if it qualifies for pickup, with the overarching goal of educating residents on proper recycling methods.
“We always want to assume people are trying to do the right thing,” Fitch said. “So when there is a lot of trash in the recycling, the labeling protocol will be one of the many steps toward the goal of educating the public.”
If bins are non-compliant with recycling protocol, they will be labeled with red tags that list some of the items in the bin that cannot be recycled and will not be picked up. Yellow tags will serve as warning labels but will still be taken, while green labels will serve as a “reward” for good recycling efforts.
Kevin Roche, ecomaine chief executive officer, said that when 30 or 40 percent of their incoming trash is contaminated, they can’t slow the line down enough to pick through it. He also said the massive transition to non-recyclable packing in the United States has caused issues, too.
“Recycling methods are constantly changing. We’re going to continue our efforts educating our communities, particularly with children,” Roche said. “We can manage contamination with a more general outreach, too. Town council presentations like this help. Open house events at our facility are educational, too.”
Krysteana Scribner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 780-9094. Follow her on Twitter: 2krysteana2016.