AUGUSTA — City councilors spoke against instituting pay-as-you-throw trash collection and expressed interest in other ways of increasing recycling only if they can be done on the cheap.

Councilors, at their Thursday meeting, discussed several new recycling and trash-handling options, including weekly pay-as-you-throw trash collection paired with free single-stream recycling, a system adopted last year in Waterville.

However, at least five of the seven councilors expressed reservations — and in some cases absolute opposition — to requiring residents to buy special bags to be able to throw trash away in Augusta as would be required in a pay-as-you-throw program.

Ward 3 Councilor Patrick Paradis said trash collection is considered by many to be a basic municipal service they pay for with their property taxes. He also expressed concern that requiring people to pay to throw things away would lead some to stockpile trash in their yards.

Paradis said the success Waterville officials have claimed for their program could be hiding the fact that people there might be stockpiling trash outside or in their garages.

“That stuff, in my opinion, is building up in people’s backyards,” Paradis said. “There is real concern about garbage being left outside. It’s a problem nobody wants to talk about when you talk about pay-as-you-throw. For the next 14 months I’m here, I won’t vote for pay-as-you-throw.”

Lesley Jones, public works director, said industry research has shown municipal recycling rates won’t increase dramatically without instituting pay-as-you-throw as a financial incentive to get more people to recycle. Recyclable items, in most pay-as-you-throw programs, are accepted at no charge.

Ralph St. Pierre, finance director and assistant city manager, said studies indicate the city’s recycling rate of 4 to 5 percent now likely wouldn’t increase to more than 10 percent without instituting pay-as-you-throw for trash. He said instituting pay-as-you-throw with a single-stream recycling program probably would increase the recycling rate to 40 to 45 percent.

Councilor Dale McCormick prompted Thursday’s discussion when she previously asked city officials to put forth options for handling trash and expanding the city’s recycling. Jones and St. Pierre presented several options, though councilors essentially decided, for now, to stick with the status quo of the current system of offering three single-stream recycling drop-off sites and three-times-a-month curbside trash pickup combined with the currently limited and lightly used once-a-month curbside recyclables pickup.

After more than an hour of sometimes heated debate, councilors agreed only to discuss further the formation of an ad hoc committee to study what form of recycling the city should pursue, if any, in the future.

Jones said the city’s only recycling truck, used to collect residents’ recyclables curbside once a month, has been slated for a new body for two years and is so rusty it cannot be used for another year or even six months of recycling.

She said there is $50,000 in the department’s capital improvement plan to pay for a new body with four compartments for recyclables to be put on the old truck to keep the city’s curbside recycling pickup program going. She said if the city later decides to change its recycling program and the four-compartment truck doesn’t work for the new program, the city would sell the truck.

Several councilors said they want to offer residents expanded recycling but only if it can be done without a major increase in expenses.

“As I hear this, it doesn’t sound like recycling makes a lot of economic sense,” Ward 1 Councilor Linda Conti said. “Yet I hear from people who want more and more of it. I’d like a recommendation for a way to maximize the ability of those who want to recycle, to recycle, at the least amount of cost to the city.”

St. Pierre said a way to do that would be to add another location where single-stream recyclables could be dropped off in the city and eliminate curbside recycling pickup.

However, councilors responded they’ve heard from people, many of them elderly, who say they aren’t able to use the single-stream recycling bins for reasons including a lack of transportation to the bins and inability to lift their recyclable items up into the containers’ doors.

St. Pierre said the containers can’t be made to be accessible by everyone.

City administrators met with officials in Waterville, where residents voted overwhelmingly in June to keep the pay-as-you-throw trash collection and single-stream recycling program it began last year, as well as officials of WasteZero, the Portland company that provides the pay-as-you-throw trash bags used in Waterville.

The council also discussed creating a new local facility to collect and compact recyclables, though St. Pierre said doing so at Hatch Hill would be costly because the landfill doesn’t have the three-phase power required to power a compactor. He said bringing three-phase power to the site alone could cost $500,000 to $1 million.

In August, the city agreed to a five-year contract with ecomaine to continue sending single-sort recyclables to be processed, at no charge, at ecomaine’s Portland processing center. Residents drop off items at the Hatch Hill landfill, the back parking lot at Augusta City Center and the John Charest Public Works Facility on North Street.

City Manager William Bridgeo said nothing in the city’s agreement with ecomaine should prevent the city from expanding or making other changes to its recycling program, as long as all unsorted recyclables collected by the city are brought to ecomaine for processing.

Since it started in early March, the single-sort drop-off program has collected 113 tons of recyclables. The city’s cost for the program is the cost of having the containers transported to ecomaine, a total of $9,800.

Other trash and recyclables options looked into by St. Pierre and Jones, included:

• Converting the current curbside recycling program to single-stream, collecting once a month, using either city workers and equipment or contracting the work out.

• Implementing a dual-stream collection, requiring the purchase of pay-as-you-throw bags and free, see-through recycling bags with the city collecting both at curbside weekly with the same truck. Materials would be brought to a local processing facility where trash and bags of recyclables would be separated from each other with the trash disposed of at Hatch Hill and the recyclables compacted so more can be hauled in each trip to ecomaine.

The costs of those options haven’t yet been estimated.

Making no changes to increase recycling could have its own, less direct cost, including the environmental effect and the cost of expanding Hatch Hill landfill to extend its use beyond the estimated 15 years it has left now. Consultants with Woodard and Curran estimated a 20-acre expansion to Hatch Hill could cost about $11 million.

However, Hatch Hill is used by Augusta and residents and businesses from nine surrounding towns. So the city has direct control over only the 4,400 tons of waste that is generated per year in Augusta, out of about 24,000 tons per year received at Hatch Hill.

So, St. Pierre said, because Augusta is only one user of many of Hatch Hill, even if its recycling rate increases dramatically, it wouldn’t add much lifespan to Hatch Hill. He said if Augusta’s recycling rate increased from the current 4 to 5 percent to 40 to 45 percent, it probably would add about six to seven months of lifespan to the landfill.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj

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