AUGUSTA — City councilors voted to eliminate two of the city’s four recycling drop-off locations, which are the only two that are available to residents around the clock seven days a week, in a unanimous vote Thursday.

Getting rid of the single-sort recycling bins in parking lots outside City Center and the police station was recommended by city administrators because too many people are putting nonrecyclables into the bins, people have left items outside the bins when they are full, and nonresidents have been using them to get rid of their unwanted items — some recyclable, some not.

“We’re in a situation where the few have ruined it for the many,” At-large Councilor Mark O’Brien said, “but the city of Augusta is still going to be accommodating recycling, at Hatch Hill and public works. Albeit it’ll be a little less convenient for some people.”

The change will leave two locations where residents will be able to drop off their unsorted recyclables for free — at the Hatch Hill landfill and the John Charest Public Works Facility, off North Street.

City Manager William Bridgeo said if the city needs more collection bins at those locations because of increased use, it will add bins at those sites.

Resident Jonathan Leach, the only member of the public to comment at Thursday’s meeting, said the city should look at changing its recycling program, but not eliminating two of its four collection spots.

He suggested removing trash pickup from the city budget and instituting a pay-per-bag system to charge residents based upon how much they throw away. He also said the city should return to curbside recycling pickup, and increase it to every other week. Before switching to the single-stream recyclables drop-off system, city crews picked up recyclable items one week a month, instead of picking up trash in that part of the city that week. He said the problem of people leaving items next to bins when they are full would be better addressed by adding bins, not removing them.

“I don’t want to save a couple of bucks by decreasing the amount of recycling we do,” Leach said, adding that cutting back the number of collection spots would send a bad message to local children about recycling. “I think leadership is sometimes doing the right thing, and not the popular thing.”

Ward 4 Councilor Eric Lind said an unintended consequence of pay-per-bag programs is that some people throw their trash into the woods to avoid paying the per-bag fee to dispose of it properly.

The remaining two locations are monitored by city workers and thus haven’t had nearly the amount of contamination or other problems as the two proposed for elimination. But they’re available for use only when the two facilities are open.

Hatch Hill is normally open to the public from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. The Public Works Department is normally open to the public 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday to Friday.

At the request of At-large Councilor Marci Alexander, Bridgeo said, the city would look into extending the hours at the public works site one or two evenings a week, to give people who work during the day later hours to bring their recyclables there.

The city pays about $200 a load to have the containers trucked to ecomaine’s Portland sorting facility to be processed, and if the bins are contaminated with too many nonrecyclables, an additional fee is assessed.

Augusta is not alone in having difficulties with its recycling program, as regional recyclers have become stricter about contamination of materials because of changes in the international market for recyclable items, including China stopping accepting plastic from the United States.

“It’s an America problem, not a central Maine problem,” Mayor David Rollins said.

Lind said the carbon footprint of recycling by hauling items to Portland by truck to be processed, and where many of the items don’t end up getting recycled, can have a negative effect that exceeds the positive effect of recycling.

Three city councilors agreed last week to sponsor a proposal from At-large Councilor Corey Wilson to eliminate the two collection locations, starting Feb. 1 of the new year, which was approved by all eight councilors Thursday.

The city started the current single-sort recycling program, in which users don’t have to separate recyclable paper, glass and plastic from each other, in 2015.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj


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