TRENTON — Can I recycle a dirty pizza box? Does a cereal box technically count as cardboard? Will anyone notice if I slip a #3 plastic in the bin marked only for #1 and #2?
Trenton residents will no longer have to deliberate over such questions as they stand over sorting containers. That’s because on July 18, the Board of Selectman voted to close its Oak Point Road recycling facility and switch to a “one bin all in” or “no-sort” approach, in which trash and recycling together is sent to Coastal Resources in Hampden, where it’s mechanically sorted.
As a member of Acadia Disposable District (ADD), Trenton used to send its recyclable materials to the Eastern Maine Recycling (EMR) facility in Southwest Harbor at a cost of $2,000 per ton.
EMR would then transport the recycling to the Ellsworth Recycling Center.
According to Trenton’s ADD representative Martha Higgins, ADD paid an annual flat fee of $26,000 to Ellsworth to accept its recycling. “It was paid in 6-month installments and then prorated based on how much each town brought to the recycling,” Higgins said.
The town decided to let its trash contract with Penobscot Energy Recovery Company (PERC) expire and enter into a contract with Fiberight, which operates a the Coastal Resources facility in Hampden.
“It always comes down to the bottom line,” said Michael Gilmartin, who helped lead the effort to establish Trenton’s recycling center years ago. The idea was to save money by cutting down the tonnage of trash the town sent to EMR.
“We weighed out what we had: an employee, six different containers that had to be dumped once a week,” she said. “And so it was the cost of that versus using Fiberight.”
The decision to switch to no-sort recycling wasn’t just about the bottom line. It was also about making recycling easier on the public with the hope that the town would divert more recyclable waste from landfills.
“It was very difficult to get people to recycle properly,” Higgins said. “We put up signs and people would still dump the wrong things in there.
“And there are some very stubborn people,” she added, “who refuse to recycle at all.”
Selectman Rachel Nobel, who also serves on the town’s Solid Waste Committee, echoed Higgins’s assessment. “Looking at Fiberight, it seemed like we would be diverting more recyclable waste from the landfill than in the past,” she said.
That wouldn’t be hard. According to a 2013 report by the EPA, the average recycling rate in the U.S. is about 34 percent.
By putting all their waste into one bag and either having it picked up or dropping it off themselves at the EMR facility, Trenton residents will be well above the national average.
As Higgins noted, “Everybody will have to recycle now.”
But Gilmartin worries there may be a downside to the new system. “People aren’t going to be thinking about recycling and cutting down on wasteful products as much anymore,” he said.
Nobel agrees. “My biggest fear,” she said, “is that without thinking about how we engage with our trash, people might buy and throw away more just because they don’t have to take that extra step of managing it.”
The Solid Waste Committee hopes to keep the spirit of recycling alive by teaching people how to reduce waste and compost.
“It’s a whole new educational piece to teach people how to choose products based on their packaging,” said Nobel.
As for how Trenton will reuse the lot where the recycling center once operated, that’s still up in the air. The town briefly considered placing solar panels there, but the lot has access to the Oak Point Road through an Emera easement and a solar panel installation would have blocked that right of way. Behind the old recycling center is the town’s salt and sand sheds, which will remain.
“If nothing else,” Gilmartin said, “the fire department will continue to use the area as storage for excess trucks.”