It is time to admit that efforts to improve Westbrook’s abysmal recycling program this year have met with stunning failure.

I chaired citizen task force that took its charge very seriously, a group that put (literally) 300-plus person hours into a report on solid waste and recycling.

We recommended that Westbrook implement curbside recycling, coupled with a pay-per-bag plan, similar to 140 other communities in Maine. Our second choice was curbside recycling coupled with an automated trash pickup plan. Our third choice was curbside recycling without any incentives at all.

All of these approaches would increase Westbrook’s embarrassing recycling rate from 6.4 percent to 30-plus percent(pay per bag), 20-plus percent (automated), or 15-plus percent (curbside without pay per bag or automation).

The Westbrook City Council dismissed our recommendations almost instantly, and endorsed the approach that for the committee came in a distant third. Then they rejected it. Then they embraced it again. Then Mayor Bruce Chuluda vetoed it.

Instead, we will have more silver bullets in the community. The council knows that this will increase our recycling rate by a miserly 3.5 percent. Some councilors seem to think that this is acceptable. To their credit, the majority understands that this is also embarrassing.

We recommended an innovative approach to dealing with heavy item pickup, and also that we add one more day per year for hazardous chemical drop-off. There has been no action on either item to date.

We used harsh language to excoriate City Hall, the school department, and Westbrook Housing for the complete absence of recycling programs in those three entities, respectively. The American Journal followed up with a front-page story and an editorial similarly chiding City Hall and the school department for failing to set a proper example for the community.

City Hall, at least, has started recycling. Westbrook Housing says it has plans to institute a recycling program in the fall. The school department, even after the front-page story, chose not to budget for recycling. The City Council, to its credit, provided a budget for this item. Then the mayor vetoed it. I am hopeful (though not necessarily optimistic) that the school department can move forward, notwithstanding the funding cut.

The mayor has been a patient and persistent advocate for curbside recycling for the past four years. His decision to line-item veto a voluntary curbside recycling plan (because it is less than half as effective as the preferred pay-per-bag plan) was principled and arguably appropriate. But his failure to compromise on the issue means that he is part of the reason that we cannot make even incremental progress in moving Westbrook’s recycling rate toward a respectable level. The mayor’s veto of funding for the school department’s recycling program is just indefensible.

There have been sincere declarations from every city councilor for the past four years that recycling is important. The failure to actually do anything effective makes this doubtful. Action (and inaction) speaks far louder than words. The intractability of most of the people involved (the mayor included) suggests that deadlock and inaction is in our future unless there is change in elected officials.

In large measure, our committee failed, the council failed and the mayor failed.

But the citizens of Westbrook have failed, too. I suspect that the city council might have moved on this had there been an outpouring of support from citizens demanding that they do so. Where are the people?

Is Westbrook really committed to continuing to operate the singularly most ineffective recycling program of any city in southern Maine? Are other citizens willing to pick up the phone and tell our councilors that burning 4 million pounds of trash every year that could be recycled (and that, in addition, pollutes our air and groundwater) is barbaric, environmentally unsustainable and ethically repugnant behavior?

If we don’t care, why should the council?

Mike Miles is a Westbrook resident.


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