Sanford’s recycling rate jumped from 7.5 percent to 41 percent this summer when the town adopted a pay-per-bag trash system, which was supposed to save $275,000 in fees this year alone.

But voters soundly rejected the four-month-old system at the polls recently, 4,133 to 2,684, and a candidate who campaigned aggressively against the system finished first in Town Council voting.

Maine Recycles Week runs from Nov. 8 through today, by gubernatorial proclamation, but it’s clear that some Mainers aren’t willing to pay extra to boost recycling rates.

After months of discussion, the Cape Elizabeth Town Council decided Monday against instituting a pay-per-bag system. In June, Waterboro voters turned down a pay-as-you-go trash system for the third time.

Still, the vote in Sanford was a surprise to some waste management experts. They say pay-per-bag systems are highly effective in driving down the cost of managing trash. Residents in more than 70 communities, including Brunswick and Portland, have been paying by the bag since the disposal method began in the state in the 1990s.

Opposition notwithstanding, communities are still switching to pay-per-bag systems at a rate of about two a year, say state officials.

“It has increased recycling rates in many, many communities,” said Sam Morris, senior planner for the Maine Waste Management Program in the State Planning Office.

Sanford’s recycling rate had languished near 7.5 percent despite the introduction last year of a no-sorting service for recyclables. When the town started charging residents $1.25 for a 15-gallon bag and $2 for a 33-gallon bag for their waste, an increase in recycling was immediate. So was the public outcry.

“It was never something the majority of people wanted here,” said Troy Henke, a Sanford resident who started a petition drive and gathered 919 signatures from voters. That was more than enough to put the issue on the Nov. 2 ballot.

Although pay-per-bag was sold as a money saver for the town, Henke said, it was actually a money drainer for residents.

He said the new system was supposed to save $16 a year in property taxes per household, but he was spending about $10 a month on the bags for his household, which includes two children and a day-care business.

“For my household, it was really going to be a financial hardship,” said Henke.

In Cape Elizabeth, which has one of the highest recycling rates in the state at 31 percent, the Town Council unanimously rejected pay-per-bag.

Anne Swift-Kayatta, the council chairwoman, said she couldn’t find any substantial revenue savings, and many residents voiced opposition to the system. “The vast majority were not in favor,” she said.

The purple pay-as-you-go bags largely disappeared from Sanford’s curbs the day after the election, although a few people still use them. The town will buy the bags back starting Nov. 22.

Town Manager Mark Green is now trying to come up with the $700,000 it is expected to cost the town to have no pay-per-bag system. If the recycling rate decreases, the town will pay the cost of disposing of more trash. It also will lose $300,000 a year in bag sales.

He said the council could tap an emergency fund and the pavement budget, and freeze open positions. At least one town councilor has shown interest in continuing to find ways to increase the recycling rate and drive down town trash costs, which are due to go up Jan. 1.

Green said it is too soon to tell whether Sanford residents will go back to their former recycling habits.

Henke said he intends to recycle as much as he did under the pay-per-bag system. But Green said that doesn’t appear to be the case across town since last week’s vote.

“There certainly is more trash now,” he said.

Staff Writer Beth Quimby can be contacted at 791-6363 or at:

[email protected]