MOUNT DESERT ISLAND — A temporary shutdown at the Penobscot Energy Recovery Company (PERC) meant to go for three weeks is now looking more like three months. Meanwhile, trash from all the towns here is going into a landfill.
When residents of Southwest Harbor, Tremont and Mount Desert were told to combine their trash and recycling at the beginning of 2020 because Coastal Resources of Maine, a plant run by Fiberight in Hampden, was able to separate it on site, it changed the way people had been trained to get rid of their household waste. ‘One bin, all in’ became the common adage for those learning a new way to manage their trash.
Unfortunately, less than six months after each town made necessary changes to transfer their combined recycling and waste to the innovative facility, it closed. Instead of reinstating previous practices, most towns decided to see what would happen next. More than a year after it closed, a contract for a new company to operate the Hampden facility has yet to be signed.
All the towns on Mount Desert Island are members of the Municipal Review Committee, an organization made up of 115 towns that manages solid waste issues for those towns as a collective. The land on which the Coastal Resources of Maine facility sits is owned by the MRC. When Coastal Resources of Maine shuttered its doors, officials at MRC redirected its members’ solid waste to PERC, a plant that burns waste to make energy, expecting it to be temporary.
“One bin, all in – all that garbage, including recyclables, was going to PERC to make energy,” said Tony Smith, public works director for Mount Desert, chairman of the Acadia Disposal District and vice president of the MRC’s board of directors, adding that waste is now going to the Juniper Ridge Landfill in Alton. “All island towns are going there now.”
Earlier this spring, PERC sent a notice to MRC and its other members notifying them of a scheduled shut down to the plant that would start April 5 and go for the next 20 days. An increase in inventory at the PERC plant led to the need for equipment maintenance and repairs. In their latest communication with its members, PERC is still waiting on a piece of equipment to be repaired and expects to reopen on July 5.
“There’s a lot of anticipation around Coastal Resources of Maine reopening,” said former Tremont Town Manager Chris Saunders last week.
In February 2020, Tremont ended its contract with the city of Ellsworth where it had been sending recyclable materials. At that time, residents were encouraged to bring all trash to the Eastern Maine Recycling transfer station in Southwest Harbor.
“I understand if you go to EMR, there are ways to separate there,” said Saunders about being able to separate paper, cardboard, tin cans and plastic.
Trash from Tremont, Southwest Harbor and Mount Desert is brought to the EMR facility before being hauled to wherever the MRC directs it to go.
“There’s a certain amount of recycling we do. As far as conventional recycling, that is not happening,” said Ben ‘Lee’ Worcester, vice president of EMR’s board of directors last week. “Those are all in the trash. They have been since we contracted up with Coastal Resources of Maine.”
Because Bar Harbor has its own transfer station, it is the only town at this time on MDI that is sending its recycling materials such as paper, plastics, cardboard and tin cans to the Casella Waste Systems facility in Hampden, but the rest of its trash is going to the Juniper Ridge Landfill.
“It’s just temporary because where we usually send it to, PERC, is closed right now,” said Sam Bannister, an employee of the transfer station.
“It’s very expensive because of transportation costs,” said Smith about separating recyclable materials. “People were complaining about the cost of recycling… It’s all going to the landfill. That’s PERC’s bypass arrangement.”