CLINTON — The towns of Clinton and Benton have seen big savings since switching to a single-stream recycling program last December, but the change has led some residents to turn their back on the towns’ joint solid waste transfer station.

According to an analysis of the first six months of the single-stream program, the station has saved about $30,000 by diverting recyclable waste from shipments to the Penobscot Energy Recovery Company in Orrington.

Compared to the same time last year, the amount of solid waste the towns sent to PERC has been cut by 42 percent, from 1,118 tons to 646 tons, according to an analysis by Jim Dunning, the assistant general manager of Casella Waste Systems.

The towns’ average annual recycling rate, which was near 13 percent last year, has increased to 18 percent, and the towns have saved roughly $6,200 in part-time labor and energy costs.

“People ask me all the time how the town can save money, and this is a very practical way to do that,” said Benton Selectman Antoine Morin.

“Like any change, there is going to be some bumps in the road, but I think once people see these numbers and see it is not a gimmick and that it is saving taxpayer money and diverting materials that would otherwise be burnt and sent into the atmosphere, they’ll come around,” Morin said.

Sitting in his office Wednesday afternoon, station director Gerald Howard said the savings didn’t surprise him, and he expected the towns to realize a lot more by the end of the year.

“I believe we are going to hit $100,000 per year, easy,” Howard said. Benton pays 45 percent of the station’s budget, while Clinton pays the remainder.

In December, Clinton selectmen approved a three-year contract with Casella Waste Systems to provide single-stream recycling at the transfer station and approved a change in the town’s ordinance to make recycling mandatory.

Clinton owns the station and is authorized to enter into contracts, but the agreement was reviewed by Benton selectmen. That town has an agreement to use the Clinton station.

Single-stream, sometimes called no-sort recycling, means all recyclables are placed in the same container. Before the change, residents had to separate their recyclables and then have them baled and shipped out. Many people didn’t bother and threw everything away, Howard said.

That added to the amount of tipping fees the towns had to pay to PERC, as well as transport costs. Under the new contract, Casella agreed to take away all the recycling for a $135 per week transportation fee. According to the Casella analysis, in the first six months, the amount the towns were spending for hauling went from about $8,000 to less than $4,000.

After the single-stream contract was in place, Howard and his staff started cracking down. People who arrived with bags of mixed recycling and garbage were given a warning and then told how to do it correctly. Most people complied, and many were very pleased with the new arrangement.

“The people who do recycle think we did the right thing,” Howard said. “They love it. They wish it would have happened 20 years ago.”

But a minority were deadset against the change. Some residents refuse to recycle and challenge the new rules when asked to separate their waste. There was even one situation where a man threatened to beat Howard up because he wouldn’t let him dump his mixed rubbish, Howard said.

He estimates about 10 percent of residents don’t use the transfer station anymore and contract with a private hauler, such as Bolster’s Rubbish and Recycling from Burnham, because of the change to single sort.

“If you don’t want to recycle, call Bolsters or someone who cares,” Howard said. “I don’t have time for it.”

Pat Proctor, of Clinton, was tossing some garbage and recycling at the station on Wednesday afternoon. He’s always recycled and so far he hasn’t heard any complaints.

“Everyone likes it, as far as I know, once you get used to it,” Proctor said.

The town didn’t change to a single-sort system before because of concerns it would incur fees if it didn’t send the required annual amount of waste to PERC. PERC has contracts with 86 Maine towns and cities to provide trash for its waste-to-energy factory.

Under the single-sort contract, Casella agreed to round out the balance of waste if the station didn’t meet its annual target, relieving it of any fees, Howard said.

“All in all, I think it’s a hell of a good thing,” Howard said.

Peter McGuire — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: PeteL_McGuire

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