Southwest Harbor opts for no-sort recycling

SOUTHWEST HARBOR — While some Hancock County towns announced last year that they could no longer afford to offer recycling programs, Southwest Harbor officials are betting they can increase recycling in the town.

They’re doing it by instructing residents and businesses not to separate trash from recycling at all.

“We haven’t decided not to recycle, we’ve just invested in technology that’s going to do it better,” Ben “Lee” Worcester of Eastern Maine Recycling (EMR) told selectmen earlier this month.

The new plant in Hampden that will soon be taking the town’s trash includes a “materials recovery” (sorting) facility that sorts and processes cardboard, No. 1 and 2 plastics and metals. Other paper and plastic stays in the stream, along with organics, to become cellulose, biogas, plastic products and fuel from plastics.

The facility is owned by Coastal Resources of Maine, the project company formed by the larger Md.-based company Fiberight. A group of 115 Maine towns belonging to the Municipal Review Committee (MRC), including Southwest Harbor, contracted with Fiberight to build the plant and send their trash there.

“The towns have spent $70 million on this facility,” Worcester said. “We’re investing in that. Why not use it?”

The Board of Selectmen unanimously approved a decision to leave recyclables in the waste stream. They discussed the need for new signage and education materials at the EMR facility in town. Selectman Kristin Hutchins said the Southwest Harbor Chamber of Commerce fields a lot of questions about trash and recycling.

The town also expects to save some money by going this route.

In 2018, the town generated about 195 tons of recyclables, Town Manager Justin VanDongen wrote in a memo to selectmen. “The total cost to recycle was $154.75 a ton. If the recyclables are left in the waste stream … we will pay $62/ton to EMR and $70/ton to Fiberight plus some additional trucking expenses for a total of approximately $135/ton.”

“If we were recycling a lot more, it would become cheaper to do it ourselves,” VanDongen said at the meeting.

“We are proud that we brought this next generation of recycling and solid waste processing technology to our region,” Chip Reeves, Bar Harbor’s public works director and MRC board president, recently told Waste360, an industry publication. “The facility is especially important given the rising and somewhat unsustainable recycling costs facing communities today.

“By processing materials onsite, Coastal Resources of Maine is a closed loop model,” he continued. “This insulates our members from global fluctuations and keeps recycling affordable.”


Liz Graves

Liz Graves

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Former Islander reporter and editor Liz Graves grew up in California and came to Maine as a schooner sailor.

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