The days of Thursday recycling runs are over for Cape Elizabeth residents, at least for now.

Starting Feb. 1, the town recycling center’s hours will be reduced by 10 hours a week. The center will close earlier on Wednesdays and be closed on Thursdays.

Officials project savings of $14,000 annually as the town struggles to overcome a projected $500,000 budget shortfall.

“The whole impetus behind this is purely economic,” said Town Council Chairman Jim Rowe. “We are trying to save money by compressing the hours, and thereby creating savings by not having the recycling center manned and operated.”

The council recently voted unanimously to keep the recycling center open four days a week for a total of 36 hours after the council’s recycling working group recommended the changes.

The council voted to change the hours following a public hearing at which no one spoke.

The working group found that Thursday is the least busy day at the recycling center. The group also noted that Wednesday after 5 p.m. is one of the quieter periods.

The group looked at other options, such as pay-per-bag or pay-per-throw systems, in which users are charged for putting waste into the hopper, or enhancing recycling education.

Cape Elizabeth’s recycling rate is 24 percent, which lags behind other communities that belong to the ecomaine waste-disposal network in southern Maine. Most other communities recycle a little more than 30 percent, according to ecomaine statistics.

The working group also recommended raising the recycling rate by educating residents on the benefits of recycling, specifically by adding personnel at the recycling center to monitor what residents are throwing into the bins and to provide guidance and materials to those visiting the site.

An enhanced program of recycling education could generate long-term savings of $18,000 per year at current values, officials say.

The group also recommended that the town adopt amendments to the solid-waste ordinance that would require recycling.

“Waste disposal is a huge number in our budget,” Town Councilor Anne-Swift Kayatta said. “If we all recycled more, we could save the town a lot of money.”

The town will have a public hearing on further recommendations of the working group at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 9 in the Town Hall Community Center.

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