AUGUSTA — Sheila Stratton arrived at the city’s Public Works Department early Friday morning with the blue recycling tote she’d picked up earlier in the week and another cardboard box, both full of paper, empty cat food cans and other recyclables.

Stratton, entering the John Charest Public Works Facility just before 9 a.m., was among the first city residents ready to recycle a wider variety of items than the curbside program allows.

She dumped the items into a large gray steel recycling container and gave a boost to City Councilor Dale McCormick, who retrieved a reusable shopping bag after accidentally dropping it into the container.

Friday marked the official kickoff of the city’s new and expanded single-sort drop-off recycling program. Under the program, which is run by the city and the nonprofit Ecomaine, residents can drop off recyclables without having to sort the materials.

“I was determined to be the first one to use it. This is great,” Stratton said after dropping her items through one of several openings in the covered steel roll-off container. “I’d filled my whole new bin and also had a cardboard box full of recyclables I’d been waiting to get rid of. Between composting and recycling, I barely have to empty the trash.”

Before leaving, Stratton helped another resident, Delores Levecque, hoist her recyclables up into the bin openings, which are at the top of the bin and five or six feet off the ground.

Stratton said her one complaint — aside from the city not starting such a program sooner — was that the container’s openings are too high for some people to be able to tilt their recycling containers into them.

Levecque dumped mostly newspapers into the bin, then headed over to the public works building nearby, where about a dozen residents were crowded into a small room to hear details about the program from Lissa Bittermann, business development manager for Ecomaine, a Portland nonprofit recycling and waste-to-energy firm, and Lesley Jones, the city’s public works director.

Levecque said she hopes more residents will recycle now that they don’t have to sort their recyclables and have three locations where they can drop them off.

“We have a lot of stuff we’re just throwing away,” she said. “I think (the new program) is great, but some people are too lazy.”

The city, in a partnership with Ecomaine, is trying the expanded single-sort recycling program for six months. If the program is deemed successful, the city might consider a more long-term expansion of its previously limited recycling program.

By mid-morning Friday, some 40 residents had been to the public works site to drop off their recyclables.

Davy Crockett said he brought a little bit of everything. He said he already was in the habit of bringing his recyclables to public works and was pleased he now could bring more types of materials there to be recycled. He, too, hoped the system’s removal of the need to sort recyclables will make it easier to recycle, and that more residents will do so.

The first 25 residents there Friday morning were given free plastic Ecomaine recycling bins. By 10 a.m., only a couple of bins were left. The bins, which are made of at least 25 percent recycled material, are not necessary to participate in the program. Residents can deliver recyclables in any type of container.

Jones said the city is encouraging residents to reuse a container they already have to carry their recyclables rather than buy a new one, which would have to be manufactured.

Bittermann said she was pleased with the turnout Friday morning, when temperatures were in the single digits or below zero.

“It’s great for the capital city to bring this to the community,” she said.

The program accepts many more types of materials than the recycling program the city has used for decades. The city already accepted newspapers, magazines, steel cans, clear glass containers and No. 2 clear plastic such as milk jugs in its curbside pickup program. It doesn’t take noncorrugated cardboard such as cereal boxes or white milk jugs or other types of plastic. That program will continue separately from the single-sort trial.

The single-sort program accepts a wider variety, including plastics Nos. 1 through 7, most types of paper, clear or colored glass, cans, aluminum, cardboard, cereal boxes, plastic grocery bags and wrapping paper. It does not accept Styrofoam or plastic bags other than disposable plastic grocery bags.

SORTING IT OUT

Bittermann explained to residents Friday morning that they should ask three questions to determine whether a plastic item is recyclable: Is it hard or rigid? Is it a container? And does it have a number 1 through 7 on it?

John Nims, who had nearly a minivan full of his family’s recyclables to drop off Friday, said they’d been saving up the stuff since they read in the newspaper the city was going to launch the project. Other than having a hard time emptying a large box into an opening in the metal recycling container, he said the new program was “wonderful — I’m all for it.”

He said he has rental units in Augusta and he planned to do “a selling job” to try to get his tenants to recycle more and throw away less.

Bittermann and Jones suggested people use a reusable shopping bag or other container small enough to be emptied directly into the recycling containers’ openings rather than bins or boxes too big to allow contents to be dumped easily into the containers.

There is another drop-off container at the Hatch Hill landfill. When the snow melts, a container will be placed in the parking lot at Augusta City Center.

The single-sort recycling container at the public works complex is accessible during operating hours, 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. There is no charge to use it and no vehicle sticker is required.

The recyclables container at the landfill, which takes waste from Augusta and seven other area municipalities, will be accessible from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Those who take it to Hatch Hill will be charged $1 for one bag of recyclables or a minimum of $2.50 for up to about 200 pounds. Regular customers still can bring in their trash and recycling at the same time, Jones said, and get a discount on their garbage rate if they recycle.

She said Hatch Hill users who just have garbage will be charged $7 for up to 200 pounds, and $4 if they have both garbage and recyclables. Previously, residents with just garbage paid $6, while those with both paid $2.

Jones said there is a charge to recycle at Hatch Hill because the dump is used by Augusta and seven other area municipalities, and it runs as a business. She said the $1-a-bag recycling charge will cover the cost of taking full containers to Ecomaine at a cost of about $200 a trip. The city has contracted with Riverside Disposal, of Chelsea, to haul the containers to Ecomaine’s Portland sorting center.

Ecomaine won’t charge the city to process the recyclables. About $10,000 of that $17,000 cost of the six-month program covers the cost of taking the recycling container from Hatch Hill to Ecomaine. The other $7,000 is the estimated cost to take it from the other two sites.

Jones said the cost associated with the Hatch Hill container is expected to be higher because it will get more use than those at City Center and the Public Works Department.

The Hatch Hill container would be used by all users of the landfill, which takes waste and recyclables from several area communities, so the cost of hauling it won’t come directly from the city budget. Instead, it would come from the Hatch Hill budget, which is funded by all users.

The estimated $7,000 cost to take the other two containers would come from the city’s garbage collection budget, Jones said.

‘A GOOD TEST’

Resident Lorraine Robichaud had a stack of newspapers to drop off Friday. She came into the public works building because she wasn’t sure which of the several openings in the container she should put her papers into. Bittermann explained she could drop her newspapers, and any other recyclables, into any of the openings, because the items don’t have to be sorted from each other.

Instead, the items will be sorted in a process which uses automation, as well as hand-sorters, at Ecomaine’s Portland recycling center. Ecomaine will then sell the separated commodities for reuse.

City Manager William Bridgeo has said the six-month trial period will provide an opportunity to see how many residents use the program. If it’s successful, the city could consider offering expanded recycling longer-term, he has said.

Jones said expanding the trial to a curbside single-sort recyclables pickup program could cost $200,000 to $300,000 because new trucks and equipment such as a compactor would have to be bought for Hatch Hill.

“This will be a good test” to gauge interest in single-sort recycling, Jones said.

Bittermann explained some of the dos and don’ts of recycling Friday morning to residents new to single-sort recycling. Plastic bags are not accepted for recycling, with two exceptions: Plastic grocery shopping bags are accepted, and users with shredded paper to dispose of are asked to bag the shreds of paper — if they’re left loose, they tend to stick to the automated equipment in the sorting system — in clear plastic bags for recycling.

Pizza boxes are recyclable, though Bittermann said users should take any leftover pizza out of them, and also take out the wax paper if there is some in the box. A little bit of cheese or sauce on the box is OK, she said.

Bittermann said Styrofoam isn’t recycled, even though it is a No. 6 plastic, because it is so bulky and light it would not be cost-effective or environmentally friendly to have the material hauled to the closest industrial user in New Jersey.

She said Ecomaine sometimes holds recyclable materials in storage, when market prices are low, to try to wait for better prices. She said the operation, which is owned by a group of southern Maine municipalities, never burns recyclables. It processes about 18 tons of recyclables an hour.

Other area municipalities with single-sort recycling programs include Manchester, Waterville, Readfield, Richmond, Wayne and Monmouth.

Stratton was hopeful, but not sure, the new program would get more people to recycle. She said it will take a prolonged educational effort to spread the word about the ease and benefits of recycling.

“You’ll need constant, constant reminders,” she said. “So people will try it and it will become a habit. I think it’s wonderful.”

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj

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