The Maine Solid Waste Generation and Disposal Capacity Report for Calendar Years 2020 & 2021, issued in January by the state Department of Environmental Protection, showed the solid waste generated per person in Maine for 2018 through 2021 was the highest it’s been in the past 10 years — between 3.61 and 3.78 pounds per person per day.

If you snooped around a little further in the report, you found that from 2020 to 2021, recycling of that waste decreased by more than 10%.

Graphic from Maine DEP solid waste report

In other words, as best the Maine DEP can figure, in recent years we have been making more trash and recycling less of it.

My discouraged response: Why am I not surprised?

I have to tell you that in the past few years, I’ve received several notes from a reader in Readfield reminding me in no uncertain terms that the Earth is doomed to an environmental catastrophe — caused by humans — and he’s 100% certain we won’t mitigate it. I see what you mean, I have replied to him, but hopefully we’ll keep plugging.

Meanwhile, out comes the DEP report, and an online news story about it contains a comment by someone who says he’s worked on recycling issues, has watched the problems become worse and is so discouraged he’s stopped putting energy into solving them.


For my part, I have always pushed back against tendencies to self-destruction. I have recycled for years and carry on as much carbon-footprint-reducing activity as I can afford. I also try to keep grounded in the facts of the matter — that the Earth is being suffocated by greenhouse gas emissions and choked by plastic waste — while hoping a preponderance of people is recognizing the problem.

But I also have to tell you, like the guy in Readfield, I’m flagging.

Our electric bill, like everybody else’s, has gone up (even though it’s tied somehow to solar generation). The electric utilities are asking for more rate increases. The problem, they say while shaking their heads and smiling ruefully, is that production costs are skyrocketing because of the price of natural gas.

Makes sense when you don’t think about it, as Stephen Colbert says. Here’s a thought anyway.

Avangrid, the parent company of Maine’s largest electricity company, reported recently it had a net income — aka profit — of $881 million in 2022. This was 25% more profit than it made in 2021. The company attributed the good financial performance to “the execution of rate plans in New York and Maine,” the Maine Beacon reported.

But somehow, Central Maine Power Co. needs a rate increase because of the cost of natural gas.


Here’s another thought.

Exxon made $55.7 billion in profits for 2022. It was the most money Exxon has ever made in a year. Exxon is the No. 4 producer of natural gas in the world, according to one finance group’s ranking.

Chevron made $36.5 billion in 2022, which was just about double its 2021 profits. Chevron was the No. 6 producer of natural gas in the ranking.

Phillips 66’s fourth-quarter profit of $1.9 billion was 46% higher than its fourth-quarter profit for 2021. Phillips 66 produces natural gas.

Shell oil company made $40 billion in profits in 2022, more than double what it made in 2021.

“Shell … posted record fourth-quarter profit of $9.8 billion,” Reuters reported, “on the back of a strong recovery in earnings from liquefied natural gas (LNG) trading.”


While the price of our electricity has gone up, so have the profits of the companies involved in making the electricity. Shell’s recovery in LNG earnings happened on the back of us trying to heat our houses here in the woods.

If the price of electricity goes up again, I’m going to have to either turn down the thermostat further on my old, inefficient heat pump (and oil burner on the colder nights) or give up making my minuscule cuts in carbon emissions. About 27% of the electricity I’m using is produced by burning natural gas and oil, anyway. How much difference am I really making by running my heat pump in place of my oil-burning furnace?

Meanwhile, Avangrid’s shareholders would really like to see that $880 million top $1 billion.

Here’s another thought: Only about 30% of everything that could get recycled gets recycled in a place like Waldo County. For about 30 years, I’ve put in my part of that 30% — drops in the recycling bucket, as the DEP solid waste figures imply. But every little bit counts, right?

Instead of getting easier, recycling is harder than ever. We pass along many more one-use plastic containers than we did 10 years ago. Plastic manufacturers (mainly oil companies) seem hell-bent on inventing new kinds of unrecyclable packaging. Curbside pickup failed its mission here years ago.

When you do cart the stuff to a nonsingle-stream recycling center, you face unpleasant headwinds when you have not sorted your eight different kinds of plastic correctly; or failed to clean containers adequately; or forgot the different procedures for leaving off different categories of recycling (or forgot the categories); or accidentally mixed magazines in with newsprint; or tried to ask if one of your boxes is made of cardboard, Styrofoam or plastic.


Then a report comes out indicating that, together with the Municipal Waste Committee’s Hampden misadventure that blew up 115 towns’ waste and recycling plans, so many people have stopped plowing through these difficulties that it’s showing in statewide percentages. The dismal 30% recycling rate, to which you contribute your tiny percent, has shrunk.

In news stories, you find seemingly endless examples of the if-you’re-for-it-I’m-against-it approach to legislative problem-solving as applied to environmental crises. Wyoming’s legislature is considering a resolution to “encourage and express as a goal that the sale of new electric vehicles in the state of Wyoming be phased out by 2035.” Ohio’s legislature passed an actual law to allow “fracking in state parks and on other state-owned land, define natural gas as a ‘green energy,’ and prohibit local pesticide bans.”

We’ve just about run out of time to make the enormous changes necessary to salvage a decent life for our grandchildren and many others over the next few hundred years, and this is where we still are?

I’m not saying I’m giving up. But my energy against the headwinds is flagging.

Dana Wilde lives in Troy. You can contact him at His book “Winter: Notes and Numina from the Maine Woods” is available from North Country Press. Backyard Naturalist appears the second and fourth Thursdays each month.

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