More people mean more trash

MOUNT DESERT ISLAND — If trash collection during the second week of July is any indicator, by the end of the week all four towns here will have produced about a million more pounds of it than at the same time last year.  

While Acadia National Park is seeing a record-breaking number of visitors this summer, towns here are also collecting an unusually high amount of solid waste. According to Penobscot Energy Recovery Company (PERC) plant manager Henry Lang, they received a combined total of 100 more tons, or 200,000 pounds, of solid waste during the week of July 12-17 from Bar Harbor and Eastern Maine Recycling (EMR) of Southwest Harbor, which collects trash from that town, Tremont and Mount Desert.  

“That’s a pretty substantial delivery amount,” said Lang. He added that summer months in Maine typically mean more solid waste production. “We’ve seen a little bit of an increase here [overall], but certainly not the increase they are seeing in the Bar Harbor area.” 

Officials in Bar Harbor are currently looking to purchase an additional trailer for the transportation of solid waste. 

“The volume of trash is really overwhelming,” said Bar Harbor Town Manager Cornell Knight during the Aug. 3 meeting of the Town Council. “Yesterday, all the trailers we have had to make a trip to PERC. The way they were able to do it, is they’re back at PERC now. So it’s a shorter run than going to Old Town. We need another trailer. 

The problem is, like everything else is in the pandemic, you can’t get anything. It’s five or six months out.” 

During the same meeting, Public Works Director Bethany Leavitt told the Town Council one of the private haulers has increased their collection fivefold. 

“We’ve talked to the commercial haulers who are picking up more than they have in the past,” she said during the Aug. 3 meeting. “One specific example, (one private hauler said) in previous years they’d bring one trailer to the transfer station every day and now they’re bringing five.” 

Since Coastal Resources of Maine in Hampden shuttered its doors in May of 2020, trash hauling has been a moving target for municipalities within the Municipal Review Committee (MRC), which includes all four towns on Mount Desert Island. For the most part, since last spring, solid waste has been hauled to PERC where it is made into energy. When that plant closed this spring for maintenance, which was expected to take one month and took three, some trash was still taken there, but most went to a landfill.  

“PERC resumed deliveries from the contracted municipalities on July 5th but had to bypass again on the 19th through the 25th,” Lang said in an email. “Currently PERC is accepting both our contracted municipalities and MRC wastes.” 

Whether negotiations will continue between Coastal Resources of Maine and their potential buyer, DTE, is yet to be seen. According to recent reports, the latter has been unable to secure funding for the purchase of the plant.  

Currently, there is no contract in place with PERC for receiving solid waste from municipalities within the MRC. 

“We have an informal agreement,” said Lang in a conversation with the Islander. “We don’t have a contract. 

“The parameters of our agreement are on a tipping fee,” Lang continued in an email. “The same fee as our contracted municipalities, a timeframe for payment of tipping fees, and that either party can end the agreement with a short notice. It’s an agreement that allows PERC to help with the waste stream diversion from landfilling and maximum flexibility for both parties. The agreement is not meant to be a long-term commitment at this time, it was envisioned as a path to assist with the start up of the Hampden facility.” 

Although EMR Vice President Ben “Lee” Worcester has a good hunch there is more trash being hauled from the Southwest Harbor transfer station now than there was last year, he is not sure it is fair to compare this year to last.  

“Yes, this summer is busier than last,” he said in a conversation with the Islander. 

“The whole of last summer we certainly didn’t have the visitations that was typical. This year we have a tremendous number of visitors… Trash follows human activity.” 

During the Town Council meeting, council member Joe Minutolo asked if the volume increase was via the commercial stream or from private residences. Leavitt explained the private haulers pick up from both, which makes it difficult to differentiate. Breaking down the difference between recycling and trash was also not immediately clear. Two members of the council suggested revisiting the subject at a later meeting to come up with a plan to address the increase in volume.  

“I would like to look at this to see if this is our new normal,” said Jill Goldthwait, a member of the council.  

Sarah Hinckley

Sarah Hinckley

Former Islander reporter Sarah Hinckley covered the towns of Southwest Harbor, Tremont and neighboring islands.

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