BIDDEFORD – Biddeford will enter the new age of trash collection Monday when it becomes the latest southern Maine community to launch a curbside recycling program and fee system in an effort to boost the recycling rates and save money.
Almost gone are the days when Biddeford residents set out an unlimited amount of trash – in whatever container they wanted – to be picked up by city crews with no fees attached. The new program incorporates no-sort recycling collection with limited, free curbside trash disposal and a pay-as-you-throw model for excess trash.
Every residential unit in the city now has two new disposal containers: a 65-gallon bin for recyclables and a 35-gallon bin for trash. The smaller trash bin is no accident. Residents who generate more trash than can fit into the bins will have to buy city trash bags from local stores, or throw away less trash.
Biddeford now has one of the region’s lowest recycling rates. About 10 percent of the city’s trash gets recycled, compared with a state average of nearly 40 percent.
Officials have good reason to believe the new program will increase that rate and reduce the tons of waste the city has to pay to discard.
Some southern Maine communities — Pownal, Falmouth, North Yarmouth and Windham — have used the combination of fees and curbside recycling to achieve recycling rates of 40 percent or more.
Biddeford will join about 100 communities statewide that offer some sort of single-sort or zero-sort recycling collection. The city has discussed implementing a pay-as-you-throw or curbside recycling program off and on for nearly a decade.
Public Works Director Guy Casavant said the city’s recycling rate should improve once residents get used to the new system. Until now, residents have had to bring sorted recyclables to the public works department and they had no financial incentive to recycle, he said.
“We want to incentivize recycling,” Casavant said. “Before, we had absolutely the worst system to incentivize recycling.”
City Manager John Bubier said the more residents recycle, the more money the city and its taxpayers will save on waste disposal. “For every ton (of trash) we keep off the tipping room floor, we save $55,” he said. “This is a huge opportunity for us to be more efficient with our money.”
Bubier said it also is a huge opportunity for the city to improve its recycling rate, which is among the lowest in southern Maine.
In neighboring Saco, the recycling rate for fiscal year 2011-12, the most recent year for which data is available, was 26 percent, according to ecomaine, a Portland-based waste handling cooperative. Pownal’s recycling rate for that same period was 45 percent, the highest among ecomaine’s owner municipalities.
Recycling rates can be much lower in smaller towns. In York County, Lyman’s rate is 18 percent and Limington residents recycle 7 percent of their waste. The tri-town area of Baldwin, Hiram and Porter in Cumberland and Oxford counties recycles 8 percent of waste taken to ecomaine.
George MacDonald, director of the sustainability division for the state Department of Environmental Protection, said the statewide recycling rate for 2011 was 39.6 percent, but the goal is to bring that number up to 50 percent.
The state used to track recycling rates for every municipality in Maine, but that practice was discontinued when the State Planning Office was eliminated last year.
Biddeford city employees will continue to collect trash and bring it to a Casella-owned facility in Westbrook, but Pine Tree Waste will collect recyclable material for the city at a cost of $381,000 per year.
Casavant, the public works director, said the city has been trying to educate residents about the new program for several months, through letters, local-access television shows and information packets delivered with the new bins. The city’s website includes a new section about the program, written in both French and English.
“It’s a learning process for people,” Casavant said.
When the new system begins next week, employees of Pine Tree Waste will inspect recycling bins to ensure no trash is included, Casavant said. People with contaminated recycling will be warned, but could eventually face loss of service if the contamination continues.
Keith Lovejoy, a street supervisor for the public works department, said the city delivered bins to about 9,000 residential units. Many residents had questions about what to recycle, but few seemed upset by the switch, he said.
“It’s the wave of the future,” Lovejoy said. “We have to get with the times.”
He said the public works department can work with residents who have special trash needs that, through no fault of their own, would force them to buy bags. City officials encourage any residents with questions to visit the city website or call the recycling hotline at 571-0608.
Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at: