When Sarah Wojcoski received a letter from ecomaine asking her if she wanted to nominate anyone for the eco-Excellence award, she placed the letter aside. She’d get to it later.

Wojcoski, the recycling coordinator for both Saco and Scarborough, has been working for more than a year getting Scarborough’s curbside recycling program up and running. By the tail end of April, new trash and recycling carts had been delivered all over Scarborough and their contents had started being collected by automated trucks. Wojcoski has been on call answering all kinds of questions – from requests for smaller carts to inquiries about how to mark the carts your own.

So, before Wojcoski had the chance to return to the letter she had placed somewhere in one of her two offices, she received another letter from ecomaine. She had won the award.

Every year, ecomaine honors individuals and groups from the 28 communities that work with the waste disposal and recycling operation. The ecomaine recycling committee votes on winners out of a group of people who are nominated by members of their communities to receive the eco-Excellence award. This year, both Wojcoski and Cape Elizabeth’s Pat Anderson were awarded for their outstanding work with recycling in their communities. In South Portland, Tania Ferrante’s ecology class at South Portland High School was also cited.

“It’s nice to hear the work you’re doing is appreciated,” Wojcoski, 25, said of winning the award. Anderson agreed.

“I think that’s the biggest reward,” said Anderson, 55, the town’s full-time transfer station attendant, “knowing that your daily work makes a difference.”

While both town employees were grateful for being recognized, their passion for recycling came through as they talked about the changes occurring in southern Maine.

At the beginning of May, ecomaine converted to a single-sort recycling system, which means instead of sorting out recyclables, all materials – glass, metal, paper, cardboard and plastics – can be combined in one container. Recycling trucks will use less gasoline than they did while waiting for drivers to sort out the recyclables with this more efficient system. Also, the amount of recycling done is expected to increase because single-sort has made recycling that much easier for individuals.

According to Shelley Dunn, communications specialist for ecomaine, the new equipment is running smoothly.

“We’ve had a lot of interest expressed and a lot of public excitement about it,” Dunn said. Though it’s too early to tell how much recycling has increased, Dunn said, ecomaine is working toward the state goal of 50 percent recycling.

Even though the system has been simplified, both Anderson and Wojcoski said it will take time for people to get used to it.

Anderson said she watched people come to the recycling center and resist putting all of the recyclables into one container.

“You could see them having this struggle of conscience,” she said. “Even for people who are dedicated recyclers, it’s an adjustment.”

Anderson said she remembers at the inception of recycling, when people were flattening cardboard boxes and peeling labels off glass bottles. Many people did not want to make the effort.

“We’ve gone through this sea change,” Anderson said. “As it sinks in and word spreads how easy it is, people who didn’t recycle will say, ‘Well, it’s kind of nutty not to.'”

Wojcoski said she has already seen positive changes happening in Scarborough due to the simultaneous onset of curbside recycling and the single-sort system at ecomaine.

The town’s recycling rate was at about 20 percent when people had to drop off their recyclables. In the first week of the new programs, Wojcoski said, people are putting out the same tonnage to be picked up by public works, but by taking the care to put their waste in the right bin, the recycling percentage has gone up to 38.

“It’s going really well,” she said.

Anderson said Cape Elizabeth’s recycling rate hovers around 20 percent, but that’s only counting the material that is sent to ecomaine. At the town’s transfer station, where Anderson is the full-time attendant, several stations are set up, like the brick pile, the swap shop and the bike alley, where residents reuse their neighbors’ castoffs.

Anderson said on Saturdays, the swap shop is packed. Many items don’t even make it inside, but are spotted in transit

and traded before they reach the building.

“It all goes to build the spirit of the community,” Anderson said.

According to Anderson, Cape Elizabeth has looked into a curbside program of its own, but the interactive aspect of the transfer station is something the people of Cape Elizabeth crave.

“It’s a community center that’s taken the place of the corner store,” Anderson said. “There’s wheeling and dealing and catching up going on that you don’t see standing in line at Wal-Mart.”

(recycle2) Scarborough Recycling Coordinator Sarah Wojcoski stands in front of a pile of old trash barrels that were replaced by carts from the town, where a new automated curbside trash and recycling program recently got underway. Wojcoski was awarded with an eco-Excellence award from ecomaine for her work with the town.Pat Anderson, full-time attendant at the Cape Elizabeth transfer station, stand by a pie chart she posted to show residents how easy it is to cut down on trash and increase recycling. Anderson was recently recognized by ecomaine with an eco-Excellence award.

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