It’s clear that Augusta’s curbside recycling program, as it exists now, should be scrapped, and there’s no doubt expanding trash collection in the city from 40 weeks to 52 would be heartily welcomed.

But connecting the two issues, as with the measure the City Council will consider Thursday night, will set back necessary efforts to raise the city’s abysmal recycling rate, and rob residents of a much-needed debate about spending priorities during the spring budget discussions.

The order in front of the council would eliminate the once-a-month, sorted recycling curbside pickup program, and use that money and manpower to expand trash collection to a weekly schedule.

By placing these two items on one order, it looks like the expansion of trash pickup will cost taxpayers nothing.

In reality, however, it will cost the city a program that last year accounted for 43 percent of its recycling. To be sure, some of that slack would be picked up by the new drop-off recycling program, but there is no doubt that the change will have a negative effect on recycling.

A city with a 5.4 percent recycling rate — the statewide average is around 40 percent — should not take money away from one recycling program without adequately considering how that money could be spent on a better one.

Some councilors plan to bring up the creation of a single-stream, or unsorted, curbside recycling program when budget discussions begin in April.

Such a program, which would cost an additional $100,000 than what is currently spent on recycling, could double the Augusta’s recycling rate, or more.

Single-stream recycling deserves consideration, and it deserves consideration alongside other city priorities, such as school spending and road maintenance. It also should be judged based on its merits against expanding trash collection, which while convenient would do nothing to extend the life of Hatch Hill, the city’s landfill, which will be costly to expand when the time comes.

If the council passes the order this week, it is doubtful that single-stream curbside recycling will get a fair hearing next year, when without the availability of the savings from cutting the current curbside recycling program, it will look prohibitively expensive.

Councilors have some difficult decisions to make in the near future about trash collection and recycling in Augusta, as well as other spending priorities. As they make those decisions, all options should be on the table.

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