WATERVILLE — Crowds flocked Friday to a booth at Elm Plaza off Main Street where officials handed out free recycling bins, stickers and magnets in preparation for the recycling program, which starts July 21.
The informational session was one of four the city organized as part of the new pay-as-you-throw waste disposal program approved by the City Council.
Some residents who turned out for the event said they support the program, which will start in the fall. Others said they oppose it.
With pay-to-throw, residents buy bags for their garbage disposal. The new curbside recycling program is a way for people to dispose of less garbage.
“I’m not for it at all,” said Phil Poulin, 73, Friday. “You pay $4,000 to $5,000 a year in taxes and you turn around and they want more money for the bags. What do you get for it? I’ve talked a lot to my neighbors, and they’re not in favor of it.”
But Uri Lessing, 42, supports pay-as-you-throw.
“I think change is always difficult, but I think that the recycling program will soon become routine and will allow Waterville to be environmentally conscious and community-oriented,” said Lessing, an elementary school teacher.
The new trash disposal program requires residents to buy the bags in order for trash to be picked up at the curb by the city’s public works employees starting Sept. 8.
The recycling program starts earlier – July 21 – and residents should place all recyclables in a separate bin to be picked up by Sullivan’s Disposal at the curb every two weeks.
Friday’s session at Elm Plaza was hosted by City Clerk Patti Dubois and Assistant City Engineer John Lombardi Jr.; Ecomaine, the Portland company that will end up with the city’s recyclables and sort them; and WasteZero, a North Carolina company that will coordinate the special bag sales.
In the first hour of the eight-hour session, about 200 blue Ecomaine recycling bins were given away, exhausting the supply.
“We’ll have more bins available as time goes on,” Dubois assured the crowd. “We’re ordering more.”
Lissa Bittermann, Ecomaine’s business development manager, said those who do not get an Ecomaine bin can put their recyclables in rigid containers, such as a cardboard box or a plastic or metal trash can, and label it “recycling/recyclables.” Recyclables won’t be picked up if they’re in clear plastic bags. Some city officials had said previously that would be OK. Bittermann said some other recycling companies the city considered hiring allow plastic bags, but Ecomaine does not.
Bittermann said cans and plastic containers can be crushed before they’re put into the recycling bin, to allow more space. She said jars that have held food, such as mayonnaise jars, should be rinsed out with warm water and the lid should be put back on tightly. Labels on jars and cans don’t have to be removed.
It’s all right to use more than one recycling bin as long as they are properly marked or have a sticker on them that designates recyclables.
“The recycling is free. You can put out as much as you produce,” Bittermann said.
In general, items accepted for recycling are paper, newspaper, paperboard, cardboard, aluminum and tin cans, foil, pie plates, glass and plastic.
Those not accepted for recycling include garbage, batteries, clothing, shoes, food, cat litter, light bulbs, paper towels and napkins, plastic wrap or film, trash bags and waxed paper.
Recycling bins, she said, can be put at the curb no matter what the weather is.
“It can go out in the rain. It can go out in the snow. It will still get picked up,” she said.
Resident Rita Tuttle, 76, said the city increased taxes over the last few years, and having to pay for special trash bags is like another tax.
“They better not go up on taxes next year,” she said.
The tax rate of $27.40 per $1,000 worth of valuation did not increase in the $37.2 million budget for 2014-15. City officials said the only way they could produce such a flat budget was by implementing the pay-as-you-throw program. They estimate it will save the city $325,000 in the first 10 months of operation.
The city will let residents know where they can buy the garbage bags. The city gave a list of stores to WasteZero, which is working on contracts for those sites.
The bags will cost $10 for a roll of five 30-gallon bags, and $10 for a roll of eight 15-gallon bags.
Mayor Karen Heck, who was at the event Friday, said she was excited to see the lines of people.
“I think people will realize that with being able to recycle everything, the amount of trash that they have may be so little that one $2 bag lasts two or three weeks or more or they only need a $1.25 bag and that’ll last two weeks,” she said.
“I think change is hard for people, but we all got used to wearing seat belts, quitting smoking, not drinking and driving; and we can get used to this, especially in view of the need to protect the planet and to keep from increasing the (tax) rate this year.”
Heck said people can look at having to pay for special trash bags as a tax or a fee, but at least they have control over what they pay for trash disposal as part of the program.
“You can pay a lot if you really don’t want to recycle, and you can pay next to nothing. It’s what people want. It’s a choice.”
Stu Silverstein, a member of Waterville’s Solid Waste and Recycling Committee, which recommended the new program, also was on hand Friday. He said he was encouraged by the enthusiasm expressed by many of the people who turned out to learn about recycling.
“It’s such a good thing to do,” he said.
Bittermann noted that people may recycle single-use plastic shopping bags they get at places such as Hannaford, CVS and Rite-Aid, but no other plastic bags will be accepted. They get caught in and wrap around the automated recycling equipment and there’s no market for such bags, she said. Bags not accepted include those inside cereal boxes, potato chip bags and plastic bags that contain frozen foods.
Bittermann urged people to use reusable shopping bags instead of collecting single-use plastic bags. Silverstein agreed.
“We just have to reduce our use of plastics,” he said.
He said his son and daughter-in-law live in France, where grocery markets do not dispense plastic bags. He said he learned that when one day his daughter-in-law arrived home from the market and her groceries were strewn all over the car. Silverstein said he asked her why.
“She said, ‘I forgot my reusable bags,’ ” he said.
Two more information sessions about single-sort recycling are scheduled for 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. July 11 at Shaw’s Plaza off Kennedy Memorial Drive and July 18 at the Kennebec Valley Community Action Program at 97 Water St. in the city’s South End. Recycling bins will be given away at those events.
If residents do not like the new trash program, they may repeal it at a special referendum scheduled for June 9, 2015.