AUGUSTA — City councilors expressed support Thursday for extending the city’s single-sort drop-off recycling program for another five years.

City Manager William Bridgeo recommends the city continue the program by signing an agreement with ecomaine to keep sending the city’s unsorted recyclables there at no charge for the next five years.

The city’s six-month test of the single-sort recycling program concludes this month unless the city and ecomaine agree to extend it.

City councilors met Thursday, and several of them expressed strong support for, and none spoke against, committing to another five years of offering residents single-sort recycling via recycling bins at the Hatch Hill landfill, Augusta Public Works’ North Street site and the back parking lot at Augusta City Center. Councilors will vote on the program at their next business meeting on Aug. 20.

“Clearly we’re all in favor of continuing recycling with ecomaine,” Mayor David Rollins said. “I’m recycling more than I ever did.”

Since the program started on March 6, Augusta has sent 68.03 tons of single-sort recyclables to ecomaine, as of a delivery on July 31, according to Lissa Bitterman, business development manager for ecomaine.

Lesley Jones, the city’s public works director, said the program already is collecting as much in recyclables as the city’s older curbside recyclables pickup program, and maybe more. While that program continues for now, Jones said its usage has dwindled as more people have taken to the single-sort program, which takes more types of materials.

In the long term, she said, the city could consider eliminating curbside pickup of recyclables. She said doing so could allow rubbish collection to take place every week.

Ecomaine, under both the current pilot program and the proposed new five-year agreement, doesn’t charge the city to take single-sort recyclables dropped off in the three bins. However, the city is responsible for transporting the recyclables when the bins are full to ecomaine’s processing center in Portland. The city, under a contract with Riverside Disposal, of Chelsea, pays about $200 per trip to have each container of recyclables taken to ecomaine.

Ralph St. Pierre, finance director and assistant city manager, said at the current rate of recycling, hauling single-sort recyclables to ecomaine will cost about $18,000 a year.

Bitterman said the closed-top recycling containers such as the ones ecomaine provides for Augusta’s use normally hold about 1 ton of material. However, city workers at public works and Hatch Hill have been using equipment to compact the material into the bins, allowing a single container to hold around 2 tons or more.

“This is important because it’s saving the city a lot of money in the number of hauls that are required to get the materials here for processing,” she said. “They are maximizing the transportation and are frequently compacting over 2 tons of materials in the containers.”

Bitterman said she thinks the program is off to a great start and is a success because of the work and enthusiasm of city officials and the staff and residents’ dedicated participation.

Several city councilors agreed at Thursday’s council meeting the city should continue with the program.

“My constituents, who contact me, overwhelmingly support continuing with this,” Ward 1 Councilor Linda Conti said. “I go to the bin at public works, and it is always pretty full. From my point of view, it’s a success.”

Ecomaine is a nonprofit recycling and waste-to-energy firm owned by several southern Maine municipalities.

In single-sort — also known as single-stream — recycling, users don’t have to sort various types of recyclable materials from each other, thus mixing newspaper, glass and paper in one container, which they take to a recycling bin and dump all those items into it together. Users still have to sort their recyclables from their nonrecyclable trash.

The city still collects some recyclable items curbside as part of its previous rubbish and recyclables collection system, but the new single-sort program, which accepts many more types of materials than the older curbside program, is drop-off only. Residents have to take their single-sort recycling to one of the three drop-off locations.

The city, before the addition of the single-sort program, already accepted newspapers, magazines, steel cans, clear glass containers and No. 2 clear plastic such as milk jugs in its curbside pickup program. The curbside program doesn’t pick up noncorrugated cardboard such as cereal boxes, or white milk jugs or other types of plastic.

The single-sort’s wider variety of acceptable materials includes 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 doesn’t accept Styrofoam or plastic trash bags.

Bridgeo said extending the ecomaine deal wouldn’t prevent the city from contemplating and making changes to its overall recycling program. He said the councilors will discuss the larger question of future city recycling options this fall.

Ultimately, city officials and others hope more recycling in Augusta and elsewhere will mean a longer lifespan for the Hatch Hill Solid Waste Disposal Facility, which, at the current rate, is projected to last 15 years before action needs to be taken.

However, St. Pierre said the amount of recycling in Augusta would have to increase to have a significant effect on extending the life of the landfill, which is used not just by city residents but also by commercial haulers bringing waste from several surrounding municipalities.

St. Pierre said at the current recycling rates of 4 to 5 percent, the life of the landfill would be extended by only five more months.

Ecomaine offered two options for the city to continue to send recyclables to it: Either extend the current no-cost option for five years or join ecomaine’s revenue sharing program, in which participating municipalities share in the revenue or expenses generated by recycling. In that program, participants can share in revenue when recyclable commodity prices are high, but also share in expenses when prices are too low to cover expenses.

St. Pierre said over the last eight years the revenue-sharing model has produced negative returns, thus costing municipalities in it money. As a result, his and Bridgeo’s recommendation was to stay with the no-cost program for the next five years.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj

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