FARMINGTON — The future of a Farmington-based recycling nonprofit group is uncertain now that its largest customer is considering leaving in favor of a less expensive service.

The Sandy River Recycling Association, which serves 14 central Maine municipalities and parts of the unorganized territory, increased its overall fees by 31 percent last year and expects further fee increases totaling 88 percent this upcoming budget cycle.

That big jump has prompted Farmington town officials to look for other recycling options.

The annual municipal fees – based on a formula that considers population, travel distance and recycling – currently range from a low of $1,140 for Strong to a high of $14,815 for Farmington.

The total annual cost for Farmington would increase by 49 percent in the next budget cycle, to $22,052.

The fee increases are the result of a decrease in prices for recyclable materials, along with a decline in local recycling and competition from the single-stream recycling industry, officials said.

Farmington had an offer from Archie’s Inc., based in Mexico, Maine, to take over recycling at no cost to the town. According to Archie’s proposal, the company would not charge an annual fee to the town for sorted recyclables and would only charge about $1 per bag to customers if the town wanted a single-stream recycling option.

In recent years, Kingfield, Mt. Vernon and Wilton also left the association for single-stream recycling.

In single-stream operations, all recyclables are put in one container, and towns that have made the switch have reported increases in recycling and decreases in town operating costs.

Sandy River Recycling officials said Tuesday night at a meeting with Farmington selectmen that the town is its largest customer and they will have a hard time keeping operations going if Farmington decides to withdraw.

“Sometimes it costs to do the right thing,” said Jo Josephson, outgoing president of the recycling association.

The Sandy River Recycling Association began in 1990 in response to recycling legislation that was passed with the goal of increasing recycling to 25 percent of the state’s municipal solid waste by 1991 and 50 percent by 1994.

Statewide recycling rates were 17 percent in 1990 and had increased to 35 percent by 2012, according to the association’s website.

Selectmen said they will weigh their options and revisit the issue Dec. 10.

Sandy River officials estimated their total cost for sorted service among all the communities in 2014 would be $128,436, an 88 percent in fees overall.

Josephson said the nonprofit had nearly depleted its $300,000 reserve fund over the past few years in an effort to keep annual costs low to the towns.

Kaitlin Schroeder can be contacted at 861-9252 or at:

[email protected]