More Portland residents came forward Thursday to say they have seen public works employees mixing trash and recyclables. Their accounts followed the publication of a video showing workers emptying trash cans and recycling bins into the same truck Wednesday morning.

City officials responded to the video Wednesday by saying they are investigating and may discipline the two men for violating solid-waste collection procedures, and that it was an isolated incident. City crews use different trucks to collect trash and recyclables and are not allowed to mix the two, except when authorized because of unsafe road conditions.

But after the Portland Press Herald published the video with an article Thursday, eight residents contacted the newspaper to say they also have seen crews throw trash in with recyclables on days without inclement weather. Some said they had seen it more than once.

“It seems like they are not putting the full effort into recycling like they should, at least in my opinion,” said Rob Haley-Dobson, who lives on Beal Street in North Deering. Haley-Dobson said he and his wife are “religious” about sorting out items for recycling, so they have felt frustrated the handful of times they’ve seen crews mixing them with trash.

“We take that much time to do it and it just gets thrown in the incinerator,” Haley-Dobson said. “I would love them to take it as seriously as they expect residents to take recycling.”

DISCIPLINE FOR ‘UNCOMMON’ PRACTICE

Michael Charek, who lives on Hartley Street in Deering Center, said he’s seen crews commingling materials several times in the past three years, although he wasn’t upset about it enough to complain to the city. It usually seems to happen at the end of the day, when crews are trying to finish up and get home, he said.

“For me, it didn’t rise to the level of a reportable offense.” But, Charek said, “when you see it, (it) is definitely noticeable.”

When informed of the additional reports Thursday, city spokeswoman Jessica Grondin said there may be examples when employees have mixed trash and recyclables without authorization, but it is not a regular or common practice.

“It’s a city of 70,000 people. Everybody messes up from time to time, but it should not be characterized as common,” she said.

The city is taking steps to discipline the two employees in the video, she said. The city has not identified the two men. One was a temporary worker and the other was a full-time city employee.

“It is something that supervisors are very clear about when they talk to the team and it is something we take very seriously,” Grondin said.

The city pays to dispose of trash, but not recyclables, so it doesn’t make financial sense for the city to mix the two, Grondin said. Both trash and recyclables are brought to ecomaine’s regional waste processing plant, although in different trucks.

Grondin pointed to Portland’s comparatively high rate of recycling as evidence that mixing is not happening on a regular basis.

According to ecomaine figures, Portland’s recycling rate was 40 percent in March and April this year, and 38 percent over the past nine months. That means the overall weight of the recyclables brought to ecomaine equaled about 40 percent of the overall weight of the trash.

Wednesday’s video, shot by a West End resident, shows two employees rapidly picking up purple city of Portland trash bags and full blue recycling bins and putting trash and recyclables into the same truck. The woman who shot the video said she had complained to the city before, but the practice continued.

DOES PAY METHOD LEAD TO CUT CORNERS?

A second video, taken by a different resident, shows a crew doing the same thing on Rosemont Avenue in March, although city officials say the workers were authorized to mix the materials in that case.

Patrick Conley, who shot that video, said trash pickup had been delayed that morning because of icy roads, although the roads were clear when he saw the trucks. He complained to public works that the crew was putting recyclables in with the trash, and was told that mixing materials had been authorized by the city that day because of safety concerns.

“If the ice isn’t an issue anymore and you’ve sent everyone out in the street, there is absolutely no excuse to be commingling trash and recycling, it doesn’t make sense,” he said.

Grondin was aware of Conley’s complaint. On that morning, a trash truck’s driver lost control on icy roads and hit two telephone poles, so the city called crews off collections until the afternoon, then authorized crews to mix trash and recyclables so they could complete their routes before the end of the day, she said.

“We were not trying to avoid overtime. We were trying to finish before dark for safety,” Grondin said.

Some residents who contacted the newspaper suggested that the city has created an incentive for workers to cut corners and rush their collections because they are paid for a full week of work even if they finish the routes in fewer hours.

That is the way the city pays the employees, Grondin confirmed. However, they are expected to help other crews if they finish early. They also don’t take a lunch or other break time, which balances out their time sheet, Grondin said. She denied that the pay structure would entice workers to break the rules so they could leave work early.

Coincidentally, City Manager Jon Jennings has been instructed by the City Council to look at ways to modernize Portland’s solid-waste system, including covered recycling bins and municipal composting, Grondin said.