Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Recycling in Saco: No time to waste

Portland Press Herald

The rate of participation is rising, but the city has a long way to go to hit its 75 percent goal by 2010.

By SETH HARKNESS Staff Writer March 24, 2008

Everett Holbrook of BBI Waste Industries collects trash in Saco last December, before Saco made the switch to single-stream recycling.

Saco's recycling rate may be the envy of several nearby communities, but the city still has far to go to meet its own ambitious goal of recycling three-quarters of its trash by 2010.

In early January, Saco switched to a new system that allows residents to place all their recyclables in one container. So-called single-stream recycling is meant to be a more efficient and convenient form of recycling that will encourage greater participation.

After the switch, Saco Recycling Coordinator Sarah Wojcoski said the city noticed an immediate increase in the proportion of residents' trash that was recycled. In January, the city recycled 33 percent of its solid waste, she said. In January of last year, the rate was 26 percent. The city's annual recycling rate in 2007 was 25 percent.

The nearly 27 percent jump is significant, but the Saco City Council, which is accustomed to taking a leading approach to environmental matters, had set a 75 percent recycling goal. The communities with the highest recycling rates in the state are currently at close to 50 percent.

Saco has set a high goal, but in recent years the city has gained a reputation for undertaking green initiatives. The city became the first municipality in Maine to purchase an electric car, and it installed a 100-foot wind turbine to power a train station that is currently under construction.

Although Saco's 2007 recycling rate of 25 percent was below the state average of 35 percent, many people involved with solid waste planning say comparing rates among different communities is problematic. Hank Tyler of the State Planning Office said the different mix of residential and commercial contributors to the waste stream found in various communities makes these comparisons faulty.

By another measure, the average number of ounces each resident recycles per day, Tyler said Saco compares favorably with other large communities in Maine. In 2006, he said, Saco residents recycled 10 ounces per person, per day. In Portland, the per-person figure was 7 ounces and in Biddeford it was 5 ounces.

Saco's 75 percent recycling goal is far beyond the 50 percent target set by the state in the mid-1990s, which has not yet been achieved. After years of decline, the statewide recycling rate is currently holding steady, said George MacDonald, director of the recycling program with the State Planning Office.

One incentive that may promote additional recycling in Saco is economic. As the city recycles more, Saco City Councilor Eric Cote said, the cost-per-ton of disposing of recyclables will fall. Saco's recycling program has a high fixed cost, a $200,00 trucking contract, but the city pays nothing to dispose of its recyclables at ecomaine in Portland.

"The more you recycle, the cheaper it gets to recycle," Cote said.

Saco is now on the cusp of reaping these benefits. When the city reaches 28 percent for a full year, Wojcoski said, it would cost the same to deliver a ton of recyclables to ecomaine in Portland as it would to haul a ton of trash to the facility and incinerate it. Higher recycling rates would lead to savings.

Last week, the City Council held a workshop to consider potential strategies for boosting recycling rates. One item on the agenda was the possibility of hiring an enforcement officer who would monitor residents' trash disposal habits and send letters to those who failed to recycle.

Even in Saco, Cote said, the councilors agreed that no one was ready for this. "Everyone was against having some heavy-handed approach to recycling enforcement," he said.

Instead, he said, the councilors decided to let the current system continue to operate and to re-examine the issue in six months.

Staff Writer Seth Harkness can be contacted at 282-8225 or at:


Copyright © 2008 Blethen Maine Newspapers

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