AUGUSTA — City councilors voted unanimously Thursday to extend the city’s single-sort recycling program for the next five years.

Councilors agreed to authorize City Manager William Bridgeo to sign a five-year contract with ecomaine to continue to accept recyclables collected in the city’s single-sort recycling program, which began six months ago as an experiment to see how it went.

With that six-month trial of single-sort recycling expiring this month, Bridgeo recommended extending it.

Councilors , who voted in favor of extending the program without debate Thursday, have said it has been popular with residents.

Bridgeo said the program, with Thursday’s approval, will continue uninterrupted.

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.

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 into it together. Users still have to sort their recyclables from their nonrecyclable trash.

Bridgeo said extending the deal with ecomaine doesn’t prevent the city from looking at, and making changes to, its overall recycling program. He anticipates councilors and the city staff will discuss that this fall.

“There are lots of different approaches you can take, from single-sort, single-sort on the curb, or recyclables being brought to a transfer station where they can be compacted,” Bridgeo said. “There is quite a variety (of ways the city could run its recycling program). And we’re collecting data on how this program is going.”

He said the city’s overall recycling program probably would be discussed as part of the annual budget process.

If the city didn’t agree to extend the deal, its agreement with ecomaine specifies the city could not do single-sort recycling with any other entity for a year.

The city’s options for extending with ecomaine included a no-charge, five-year option in which the city’s only expenses are the cost of transporting recyclables to ecomaine’s Portland processing center; or a three-to-five-year revenue sharing agreement in which the city would share in the costs, or potential revenue, from selling the recyclable materials sent to ecomaine.

In that revenue sharing program, participants can share in revenue when recyclable commodity prices are high, but they also share in expenses when prices are too low to cover expenses.

Ralph St. Pierre, finance director and assistant city manager, said over the last eight years the revenue sharing model has produced negative returns, thus costing municipalities money.

As a result, his and Bridgeo’s recommendation was to stay with the no-cost program for the next five years.

The city’s program cost is for hiring a contractor to transport the three large recycling bins, kept at Augusta City Center, Public Works Department off North Street, and Hatch Hill landfill, to ecomaine in Portland.

Under a contract with Riverside Disposal, of Chelsea, the city pays about $200 per trip to have each container of recyclables taken to ecomaine.

St. Pierre said at the current rate of recycling, hauling single-sort recyclables to ecomaine will cost about $18,000 a year.

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.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj