WATERVILLE — A useful guideline when putting recyclables into a bin is to think about the people working on the conveyor belt at ecomaine, the company that takes the city’s recyclables.

If you wouldn’t want to handle it yourself, then probably you shouldn’t recycle it, according to Leo Maheu, environmental educator for ecomaine, of Portland.

“If you feel icky about handling something, think about their day jobs,” Maheu said.

Maheu said Tuesday night at a recycling forum at The Center downtown that a relatively clean cardboard pizza box, for instance, may be recycled, but if it is soggy from grease, it is not. Nor is food, medical waste including sharps and needles, oil and antifreeze bottles, Styrofoam, bubble wrap, candy wrappers, bread bags, plastic wrap, chip bags, rope, chains, clothes, blankets, shoes, pillows, carpeting, garden hose, light bulbs, paint cans and propane tanks.

Only three people turned out for the event, despite the fact that several attendees at previous forums cited lack of education about what to recycle and not recycle as an aspect of pay-as-you-throw — the new trash collection program — they didn’t like.

Maheu told Public Works Director Mark Turner and residents Shawn Webber and Don Martin that he works predominantly with school systems to educate students, but also speaks to nonprofit organizations and businesses about how to be more “green” and start recycling and composting programs.

Waterville residents place all recyclables in bins as part of “single-sort recycling” and leave the bins at the curb on regular trash collection days, the first and third full week of the month. Starting July 1, recycling pickup days will increase to every other week.

Ecomaine is a nonprofit, quasi-municipal corporation owned by 20 towns and serving 54 communities in Maine, according to Maheu. It has three facilities — a single-sort recycling site, a waste-to-energy power plant and an ash landfill, he said.

“Being a nonprofit, we’re able to focus on the environmental impact our waste has,” Maheu said.

Turner asked who buys the energy produced at the waste-to-energy plant.

“It changes all the time, depending on the market,” Maheu said. “Currently, I believe it’s Constellation Energy.”

He described the waste hierarchy as reduce, reuse, recycle, compost, waste-to-energy and landfill. He held up his cellphone, which he said he won’t throw away just because a newer model might be more fashionable. He recommended people use reusable shopping bags and coffee mugs, silverware instead of plastic utensils, and cloth rather than paper napkins.

Nationwide, 250 million tons of municipal solid waste were generated in 2011, according to Maheu.

“Over one-half of what we get rid of is recyclable,” he said. “Sixteen percent is organics or compostable food waste, 54 percent is recyclables, and 30 percent garbage.”

Webber said he hears people saying the thing they don’t like is having to pay for special purple bags as part of pay-as-you-throw.

“I’m for recycling,” Webber said. “I think it makes people aware of their trash. Everything has to have a price on it.”

Maheu showed a video of the ecomaine recycling facility, which uses mechanical and manual sorting techniques. Problems occur in the sorting process when plastic bags, film and wrap clog up the machinery, and when propane tanks, including small green tanks used for camping, explode, he said.

People may recycle cardboard, paper, metal, glass and plastics, he said. Plastic containers with the numbers 1 through 7 inside the “chasing arrows” are acceptable. They include milk jugs, yogurt cups, mayonnaise jars, water and soda bottles, and margarine and butter tubs. Maheu said if the items have the proper numbers on them, are containers and are made of rigid or hard plastic, they are recyclable.

“If you’ve got those three things, then perfect — you can put it in your recycling container,” he said.

Acceptable paper includes newspapers, books, brown paper bags, junk mail, paper tubes that paper towels come in, magazines, egg containers and copy, construction and poster paper. Milk, orange juice, soup, stock and broth cartons also are recyclable.

Maheu said people need only rinse containers out so that there is not a lot of residue in them.

Waxed paper and waxed paper cups are not recyclable. Maheu said to use the thumbnail test on items that are waxed and if the wax comes away, they are not recyclable. Also not recyclable are tissue paper, paper towels and toilet paper.

Acceptable metal items include vegetable and soup cans, aluminum foil, aluminum pie plates and aerosol cans, but Maheu warned that people should make sure the aerosol cans are completely empty. He recommended people take cans outside, turn them upside down, press the sprayer button and count to 10 or 20. If there is no hissing sound, it is OK to recycle, he said. He said if accelerant (gas) in the can is not released, the can could explode in the baling machine.

Things that may not be recycled include large, bulky pieces of pipe, house flashing, air conditioning units, televisions, computers and anything too large to fit into a standard recycling bin.

Martin asked if a metal snow shovel with the handle cut off is recyclable.

“Yes, if it’s smaller than a 5-gallon bucket. If it would fit in the bin — OK,” Maheu replied.

But he warned that if people start hacking materials up and the recycling number on the material is not visible, then the sorting facility can not tell what it is made of.

“If you have anything big like that — well, that’s what a transfer station is for,” Maheu said. “That’s what the town is for.”

Turner noted that people may bring such large waste to a private transfer station.

“Saturday is the cheapest. Go on a Saturday,” he advised.

Maheu said that when recycling glass jars, one does not need to take the labels off. If someone drops a drinking glass and breaks it, it is recyclable.

“The kind of glass we can’t accept is laminated glass — car windows, double paned windows for houses,” he said.

Also not acceptable: electrical cords, fire extinguishers, gasoline cans and other special or hazardous or special waste. Turner said people may bring such waste, free of charge, to the annual drop-off event at Winslow Public Works Department on the second Saturday in October. The event is hosted by Kennebec Valley Council of Governments and several area communities, he said.

Maheu said electrical waste including batteries, televisions, keyboards and projectors may be dropped off, free of charge, at big-box stores, including Best Buy. Most Goodwill Industries and Salvation Army stores also take clothing, he said.

Skills Inc. on Industrial Road takes metals and televisions under a certain size, according to both Turner and Webber.

Maheu said that when 1 ton of paper is recycled, 17 trees are saved, as well as 7,000 gallons of water, 463 gallons of oil, 587 pounds of air pollution, 3.06 cubic yards of landfill space and 4,077 kilowatt hours of energy. He said 61 percent of single-sort material is paper.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

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Twitter: @AmyCalder17