Debbie Peck lives every week as if it were Earth Week.

With reusable grocery bags in her car and a composting worm farm in her basement, she said her entire family participates in recycling and conservation.

“We’ve been doing this for years,” the Cape Elizabeth resident said as she dumped a blue canvas bag full of newspapers into one of the town’s three recycling receptacles. “(Recycling) is so easy, I think it can quickly become a way of life.”

Peck is just one of the continually increasing number of residents participating in Cape Elizabeth’s recycling program. According to Town Council Chairman Mary Ann Lynch, more than 30 percent of the town now recycles, which is up from 25 percent in January, and is an increase of more than 10 percent from the year before. She attributed the high number of participants to the implementation of single-stream recycling, a system that allows people to combine all recyclable materials in one bag – no sorting required.

According to Shelley Dunn, spokeswoman for ecomaine, a regional waste management company, Cape Elizabeth’s recycling falls between the rates of its neighboring communities. In February 2008, South Portland had a recycling rate of 23 percent and Scarborough had a recycling rate of 38 percent. Neither South Portland nor Scarborough, however, have seen an significant increase from their January rates. Both towns have curbside pickup for recyclables.

The news of the increase was announced on April 18, the first day of the nationally recognized Earth Week, and many locals agree with Lynch’s sentiment – it’s easier to recycle when there’s just one step.

“Every week I throw everything into one bag,” said Scott Berry. “Papers, cans, plastic – everything that’s allowed.”

Berry, who avidly recycles, said he remembers when the government announced the first Earth Day on April 22, 1970. He was stationed as a helicopter pilot in Vietnam at the time, and thought it was great people were “pitching in” and helping to preserve the earth.

“I thought, great, the country is finally getting on the bandwagon,” Berry said.

And while both Berry and Peck agreed that Earth Week helps to keep the environment at the forefront of people’s minds for a time, the town maintains recycling efforts year-round.

Although there is no curbside pickup for recyclable materials, there are three recycling bins located throughout the town: at the recycling center on Dennison Drive, in the middle school parking lot and behind the Town Hall, where Town Clerk Ruth Noble said there is a “constant flow of people, all day every day.”

At the recycling center, residents have the option of dropping off recycling, trash and Salvation Army items at one time. In 1996, the town started the Cape Swap Shop, where people can drop off items they don’t want in their homes but are still usable. The items, which vary from toys and sporting goods to kitchen appliances, can then be adopted by others free of charge.

In addition, the recycling center has a bottle drop, the proceeds of which are turned over to a different nonprofit organization each month.

The month of April belongs to Coastal Maine Aquatics, a local swim club for children. In exchange for the proceeds, members of the nonprofits work shifts at the house, sorting cans and bottles to be redeemed for the nickels that add up to dollars.

“It gets kids excited to recycle,” said Anthony Kosner, who was working a three-hour sorting shift with his children Leo, Koko, and Arden Wing, all of whom are members of Coastal Maine Aquatics.

Kosner, whose family regularly recycles, said he believes Cape Elizabeth is “very aggressive” when it comes to getting their citizens involved with recycling.

“People are more engaged about where their trash goes and what happens with the garbage,” he said. “I think the single-stream is responsible for a lot of it, (recycling) is being more accepted.”


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