AUGUSTA — The city could add monthly curbside pickup of unsorted recyclables to its recycling options for about $100,000 a year.

Two city councilors on Monday said they would like the city to consider monthly single-stream recycling pickup as part of the annual city budget.

The city’s current collection system of 40 weeks of curbside rubbish pickup and 12 weeks of curbside pickup of limited types of sorted recyclables, combined with its relatively new single-stream recyclables drop-off program, costs $823,000 a year. Residents can drop unsorted recyclables at Hatch Hill landfill, the Public Works Department site off North Street, and the back parking lot at Augusta City Center.

Under that system, the city’s recycling rate is 5.4 percent, collecting 280 tons of recyclables a year.

At the request of city councilors, Lesley Jones, public works director, and Ralph St. Pierre, finance manager and assistant city manager, estimated the cost of expanding the city’s recycling program in three different scenarios.

The lowest cost option, aside from not changing anything, would be adding an additional drop-off single-stream recycling bin for residents to use outside Buker Community Center at an additional cost of about $8,400 a year to rent the container and have it hauled to ecomaine in Portland for processing when it is full.

The most costly option was expanding the existing rubbish pickup program from the current 40 to 52 weeks and adding 26 weeks of curbside pickup of single-stream recyclables with an added cost of $281,000 for a total budget of $1.1 million. Those additions, according to projections St. Pierre said were conservative, could increase the city’s recycling rate to 13.5 percent, collecting 695 tons of recyclables.

The two city councilors at the recycling subcommittee meeting Monday morning, Ward 2 Councilor Darek Grant and at-large Councilor Dale McCormick, said they could support adding a recycling bin at Buker to give residents another drop-off location for single-stream recyclables. They are also interested in considering the mid-level, $100,000 addition of monthly curbside single-stream recyclables collection as part of the overall proposed city budget for next year. That addition is expected to increase the city’s recycling rate to 10 percent. It would bring the city’s overall rubbish and recycling budget up to about $920,000 a year.

The current year’s city budget is $54.9 million.

“The middle option, with the extra yearly cost of $97,000, I think is inexpensive, when you think it would enable us to serve all of our constituents,” McCormick said, noting that some residents aren’t physically able to transport their recyclables to the drop-off locations and lift them into the bins. “I was surprised it was that low. It’s a baby step. It’s a little bit more than a baby step.”

In single-stream recycling, users don’t have to separate their different types of recyclable materials. They just have to separate them from their non-recyclable rubbish.

To start collecting recyclables curbside, the city would need a roughly $200,000 truck to collect the items from around the city and, when full, take those items to ecomaine’s facility to be sorted and processed. St. Pierre said the cost of that truck was included in the $100,000 a year in additional costs, but interest on the loan that would be needed for that purchase was not. That would likely add another $8,000 a year for each of the seven years the truck would be expected to remain in use.

If the city makes no changes to its current rubbish pickup and limited sorted recycling pickup, it will still need to spend about $50,000 this year to put a new recycling body on the truck that is used to pick up recyclables. Jones said the current truck body is so rusted it isn’t likely to pass another inspection.

St. Pierre said to start a curbside recyclables collection program, residents would need to have bins with lids because the unsorted recyclables would need to be loose, not in a bag, and the lid would be needed to keep them from getting wet and to prevent litter from spilling out of them onto the street.

He said it would cost the city roughly $105,000 to provide bins for the 7,900 households where rubbish is collected now.

City Manager William Bridgeo said adding another recyclables drop-off container at Buker Community Center would be “a good step forward” because it would give residents of that part of the city another drop-off location. Currently, he said many of those residents probably use the bin at Augusta City Center, which McCormick said constituents have complained frequently fills up on weekends.

“I support that idea. I think one more location can’t hurt in the center of town,” Grant said of adding a container that could be accessible 24-hours a day, seven days a week at Buker.

St. Pierre suggested the city abandon its limited curbside sorted recycling pickup because its use is declining with the rise in popularity of the single-stream recycling drop-off program. Last year the program collected 120 tons at a cost of $879 per ton compared to 160 tons at a cost of $113 a ton collected in the single-stream drop-off recycling program.

“At a cost of $879 a ton, it’s not worth it to pick up that little amount,” he said. “It’s got maybe a 2.5 percent recycling rate, and every month it goes down. We’re at the point of sending a truck around to pick up almost nothing, and burning a lot of diesel fuel to do this just doesn’t make sense.”

City councilors in September rejected a proposal to institute pay-by-the-bag rubbish collection. They also expressed concern about eliminating the curbside sorted recyclables collection because some residents, many of them elderly, have said they aren’t able to use the single-stream recycling bins. Councilors said some residents don’t have transportation to get their items there, and others aren’t able to lift their items up into the doors of the recycling bins.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj

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