WINSLOW — A majority of residents favor increasing recycling in town, but most are opposed to implementing a pay-per-bag trash program, according to the results of a survey of voters taken in November.

Approximately 500 people filled out the 14-question survey, which was developed by Unity College students. The survey was conducted at the Nov. 3 polls. The students are expected to present the findings of the survey to the Town Council at its Dec. 14 meeting.

The vast majority of residents surveyed, 82 percent, said that they would voluntarily participate in an unsorted recycling system if curbside pickup was offered, and 78 percent said they would be willing to sort their recyclables.

Of the roughly 500 people who responded to the survey, almost all, 92 percent, said they owned homes in town.

According to the survey results, 66 percent said they did not want a pay-as-you-throw system, even if it means lower taxes to offset the cost of the bags. Roughly the same proportion, 64 percent, said they were not in favor of implementing recycling and pay-as-you-throw at the same time.

In comparison, 58 percent said they would like to keep the current system if it meant taxes would increase, and 53 percent said they would be willing to use curbside unsorted recycling if it increased their tax bill by $40 a year.

Similarly, 54 percent marked they would be in favor of trash pick up every other week if unsorted recyclables were picked up on the alternate week.

A solid waste committee made up of town councilors, administrators and community members has been examining changes that might be made to the town’s solid waste system to boost Winslow’s recycling rate, which is approximately 5 percent, according to a report from the committee released earlier this year.

“In a way, I was surprised it was so strong in support of recycling,” said Councilor Ken Fletcher, who sits on the committee.

“I kind of knew that people were in favor, but 82 percent, that to me is very, very strong support,” Fletcher said. “Which is encouraging, because we were hoping that was going to be the will of the people.”

Councilor Ray Caron, who is also on the committee, was surprised more weren’t against pay-per-bag, but said the results were valuable for the committee.

While people signaled they don’t want pay-per-bag, every expert the committee has consulted said it works to give people an incentive to recycle, but it’s not a necessary move, Caron said.

“If you can get the recycling rate to 30 percent without pay as you throw, that would be the way to go,” Caron said.

Winslow has curbside trash pickup for residents, but people must sort their recycling and take it to two bins at the Winslow Public Library on Halifax Street. The paper, plastic and cardboard residents bring in to recycle have to be sorted and the town doesn’t accept glass or aluminum.

Anything that isn’t recycled winds up in the 3,000 tons of municipal trash the town pays to send to the Penobscot Energy Recovery Company waste-to-energy incinerator in Orrington. Committee members have said that if the town can boost its recycling rate to 25 percent, it could save up to $40,800 a year.

Some communities, including Waterville, have switched to a pay-per-bag, also called a pay-as-you-throw solid waste system, paired with curbside recycling pickup in an effort to improve recycling rates.

Opposition to pay-as-you-throw wasn’t surprising, Fletcher said. Even before the survey, residents have told him they don’t want to pay for special bags.

Although the survey sample was small, fewer than 10 percent of registered voters in Winslow, the message was so strong that the results will be useful to the committee as it moves forward with recommendations, Fletcher said.

“I’m of the firm belief that unless you have the support of the people, the program is not going to work,” he said.

The committee doesn’t have a hard deadline to come up with recommendations, but the town will need to replace its aging garbage truck in the next couple years, and whatever program is in place might dictate if it buys a split recycling-garbage truck to replace it, Fletcher said.

The town’s contract to provide waste to PERC is also up in 2018, along with more than 200 other Maine communities, and municipalities across the state are working on solutions for solid waste disposal after their agreement with the energy company runs out.

Peter McGuire — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: @PeteL_McGuire

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