WATERVILLE — City residents are now being asked to stop using plastic retail and grocery bags for recyclables that are picked up in curbside bins, a move that the company disposing of the materials says will help its operations.

Ecomaine says it will no longer accept the bags because the items clog up the sorting machines at ecomaine’s recycling facility in Portland, forcing workers to stop the process several times a day to unclog them. Also, the market for selling the bags is very weak and ecomaine wants to encourage people to avoid using plastic bags and instead use reusable bags, according to Lisa Wolff, ecomaine’s communications manager.

“It’s been that way for quite a long time,” Wolff said Monday of the clogging problem, “but unfortunately, there’s just more and more plastic bag usage and more and more clogging.”

Ecomaine had been accepting the plastic bags with the numbers 2 and 4 on the bottom — primarily grocery and retail plastic bags — but people also were putting wood pellet and feed bags that have those numbers on them into their recyclables and such bags are not recoverable, Wolff said.

Many supermarkets and other stores will accept plastic retail and grocery bags at recycling stations, according to both Wolff and Mark Turner, Waterville public works director. Turner said he recycles all his retail and grocery bags at Hannaford at Elm Plaza, for instance.

“I bring mine to Hannaford every weekend. They have a big bucket to the left as you come in,” Turner said. “I just called Shaw’s supermarket a little while ago, and they also take the bags.”

A list of stores that will accept plastic bags and plastic films is available at www.plasticfilmrecycling.org, Wolff and Turner said.

A press release from ecomaine says the decision to stop accepting plastic bags comes on the heels of communities, including Portland, South Portland and Falmouth, instituting fees of 5 cents per plastic grocery bag. Freeport recently placed a ban on plastic bags in grocery and convenience stores and instituted a 5-cent fee for paper bags, the release says. “These ordinances aim to reduce waste and incentivize shoppers to opt for reusable bags, thus reducing fossil fuel and natural resource consumption and our overall carbon footprint.”

Turner also urges Waterville residents not to place Styrofoam in their recycling bins, as ecomaine does not accept that material either.

“We want to remind people all Styrofoam containers and packaging is not recyclable, and that’s another item people seem to habitually put right in the recycling,” he said. “They think it’s recyclable, but it’s not.”

Removing plastic retail and grocery bags from the recycling stream will have a minor effect on the overall tonnage because they are so lightweight, according to Turner.

The city sends its trash to the Oakland transfer station, where it is then taken to Penobscot Energy Recovery Co. in Orrington. But in 2018, the city will start sending its trash to Waste Management Co. in Norridgewock.

The city pays Sullivan’s Disposal of Thorndike $72,000 a year to pick up single-sort recyclables at homes in Waterville. On June 30, 2017, the three-year agreement with Sullivans’s will expire and the city will solicit bids to continue the service, according to Turner. Single-sort means people throw all recyclables, including plastic, glass and paper, in one bin, and it is sorted by machine at ecomaine.

The city’s three-year agreement with ecomaine also expires June 30, Turner said.

“We have a chance to renew that agreement for another five years, I think, and it’s a zero revenue agreement,” he said. “We don’t pay for disposal, but we don’t get a share of profit on recyclables. It’s (the agreement) automatically renewed upon our notification.”

With the city’s pay-as-you-throw program, which will have been in existence three years next summer, the city’s cost for trash disposal went from $350,000 annually to $130,000, which represents a 60 percent savings, according to Turner.

“We know the program is popular. We know the residents want it to continue,” he said. “We’ve had good participation rates with everybody.”

As part of the program, residents buy special purple bags for their trash, which they place at the curb separately from recyclables. When pay-as-you throw started, some people opted instead to have private trash pickup and the city’s trash tonnage was reduced because of that, as well as because some people who brought trash in from out of the city apparently stopped bringing it in, according to Turner. The daily tonnage before pay-as-you-throw was 16-18 tons a day and now the city disposes of 6-7 tons, he said.

The city also pays Shredding on Site on Armory Road $14,400 annually to accept sorted recyclables, primarily from retail businesses. Residents also may take recyclables to that site.

Meanwhile, the city’s Municipal Solid Waste Committee, which met about every two weeks for a while and stopped meeting in the summer and fall, will start meeting again as budget season arrives, according to Turner. The committee, which discusses ideas for solid waste disposal and related issues, is made up of current and former city councilors as well as Turner, residents Todd Martin and Stu Silverstein, City Manager Michael Roy and City Clerk Patti Dubois. The committee sometimes meets with officials from the towns of Oakland, Winslow and Vassalboro, as well as with the Municipal Review Committee, whose members include local councilors and town managers, Turner said.

“It sometimes blossoms into a large regional group,” he said.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17