Cities in the Bangor region have no recycling more than 18 months after the closure of the Hampden waste treatment plant

Communities in the Bangor area and beyond that abandoned local recycling programs before a new waste treatment facility started in Hampden have not reinstated these programs, and are unlikely to do so. do, even though the plant has been closed for over a year and a half.

This means that years after a new waste treatment plant promised to remove recyclables from garbage piles and prevent more of the region’s waste from ending up in landfills, many communities who have chosen to send their waste there find themselves practically without recycling. In the meantime, all of their waste – garbage and recyclables – either goes to the Penobscot Energy Recovery Co. incinerator in Orrington or to landfills.

A number of communities halted their separate recycling collection in 2018 and 2019 due to a depressed global market for the costs of collecting and processing sent recyclables skyrocketing, and as cities waited for the opening of the l Coastal Resources of Maine plant in Hampden.

But the start-up of the plant, initially scheduled for 2018, has been delayed several times. Then it operated commercially for about six months before closing in May 2020, unable to pay its bills.

A garbage truck empties garbage cans on S. Park Street in Bangor on Thursday. Credit: Linda Coan O’Kresik / BDN

The bondholders who funded the construction of the plant and the Municipal Review Committee, the group that represents the 115 towns and villages that have registered to send their waste to Coastal Resources, have since struggled to sell the factory, but no sale or reopening is imminent. .

Yet communities that have stopped recycling are staking their hopes of reviving the practice with a new buyer entering and restarting the Coastal Resources of Maine plant.

“I toured the plant while it was in operation and found it to be very efficient with a high recycling rate,” said Michele Daniels, the mayor of Brewer, who has stopped his collection. separate recycling in 2019. “Financially, to restart a curbside [recycling program], or create a landing zone, is not feasible at the moment.

Communities have an opportunity to resuscitate recycling programs, but the cost would outweigh the benefits in Bangor, said Aaron Huotari, the city’s public works director and a board member of the municipal review committee.

This leaves a restart of the Hampden plant as the best hope for cities to recycle again, he said.

“The point is, even though it was poorly managed, it worked. We have shown that it will work, ”said Huotari. “Setting that up and making it work, I think, is the answer. ”

When Bangor picked up recycling from curbside, recyclables only made up about 8% of the city’s total waste, he said.

On Wednesday, full trash cans can be found along the roads of Bangor. Credit: Linda Coan O’Kresik / BDN

“That 8 percent figure we hit was because we couldn’t convince people to embrace the concept of pulling out their recyclables and segregating them, and doing it right,” he said. declared.

Currently, Bangor only offers cardboard recycling, but no curbside pickup, Huotari said. Residents should take their broken down boxes to the dumpsters behind the public works building on Maine Avenue.

Other towns in the Bangor area using the Coastal Resources plant that abandoned recycling included Clifton, Dedham, Eddington, Hampden and Holden. In addition to the Bangor area, the 115 towns that used the plant included communities in Aroostook and Piscataquis counties, Down East, Wiscasset and Augusta areas, and the Midcoast.

The lack of recycling right now in so much of the state makes it less likely that Maine will meet its 30+ year goal of a 50 percent recycling rate, said Sarah Nichols, who is leading the efforts. waste reduction and recycling for the Maine Natural Resources Council.

“It’s a disaster,” Nichols said. “We don’t know how to help cities and what to do next. ”

Nichols and the Natural Resources Council of Maine were cautious years ago when cities decided to send their waste to the then proposed Coastal Resources plant. Years later, Nichols said the recycling shortage among these communities was disappointing.

“This is the moment I liked the least ‘I told you so’,” she said. “It’s kind of like ‘all the eggs in one basket’ [situation]. If that facility isn’t working, and if you send all of your garbage, recycling, composting, everything to this one place and it doesn’t work, you’ve gone down the drain and you’re not doing anything good for the environment. “

Last year, Governor Janet Mills enacted a one-of-a-kind measure that transfers the costs of recycling product packaging to the manufacturers of those products. These producers will contribute to a fund, the proceeds of which will then be made available to communities to cover recycling costs and pay for new recycling programs.

On Wednesday, full trash cans can be found along the roads of Bangor. Credit: Linda Coan O’Kresik / BDN

But it’s not clear whether many of the 115 communities linked to the Coastal Resources plant will be eligible for these funds given the current scarcity of recycling, according to Nichols.

“I feel bad for these cities,” Nichols said. “I don’t know what to advise them to do.

However, not all of the communities using the new Hampden plant have stopped recycling. Orono, for example, has decided not to adopt the “one-bin, all-inclusive” approach that many of its neighbors have adopted.

Orono “decided that while the plant was operating and doing a great job of recycling, we really wanted to see long term success before we changed our recycling program,” said city manager Sophie Wilson.

When Coastal Resources first opened, Orono brought its separated recyclables to this plant, which accepted the already separated recyclables at a reduced rate compared to waste loads.

Now, with the facility shutting down, the city still collects recycling from single-family homes and multi-unit buildings of four or fewer units, said Wilson, who also sits on the board of directors of the municipal review committee. But rather than go to nearby Hampden, the town’s recyclables go to a Casella processing facility two hours away in Lewiston, she said.

“When the plant closed, we talked about the fact that recycling was four times the cost,” Wilson said. “But in our community, we thought it was really important to keep this commitment to recycling. For us, the additional cost made sense, as it is one of the core values ​​of the community.

Wilson said the city used funds from the sale of its share of the Penobscot Energy Recovery Co., or PERC, incinerator to cover recycling costs.