BIDDEFORD — Public Works Director Guy Casavant was confident that Biddeford would embrace curbside recycling, but he didn’t expect the city to triple its recycling rate and save $220,000 in the first year.

“Whenever you change something that’s near and dear to everyone’s heart like trash is, it’s a bit of a culture shock,” Casavant said.

City officials say the initial success of the program is helping Biddeford shed the stigma associated with a trash incinerator that sat downtown for nearly three decades and earned the city an unfortunate nickname: Trashtown. Biddeford’s fast rise in the region’s recycling ranks is seen as more than the successful launch of a new city program.

“I think it was a cultural shift,” Mayor Alan Casavant said of the new recycling and trash program. (Alan Casavant and Guy Casavant are cousins.)

The city has tripled its recycling rate to 32 percent since last July, when each household received a 65-gallon bin for zero-sort curbside recycling. At the same time, the city gave each household a 35-gallon trash bin and implemented a pay-per-bag model for excess trash.

Its new recycling rate puts Biddeford ahead of neighbor Saco, which recycled about 26 percent of its trash in the past year, and among the more aggressive recycling towns in southern Maine. Previously, Biddeford had a recycling rate of about 10 percent, one of the lowest in the region.

The implementation of curbside recycling and changes to trash pickup were part of the set of three contracts negotiated when the city bought the former site of the Casella Waste Systems-owned Maine Energy Recovery Co. trash incinerator for $6.65 million in 2012. As part of the deal, Casella provided the recycling and trash bins to the city.

Alan Casavant said there had been discussions in the past decade about offering curbside recycling, but proposals were cost-prohibitive.


In addition to the closure of Maine Energy providing new resources for the recycling program, it added a new financial incentive for taxpayers. Trash that once stayed in the city now has to be consolidated and trucked to Westbrook for disposal.

In the past year, Biddeford reduced the amount of household waste it disposes of by 44 percent, from 8,460 tons to 4,789 tons. Guy Casavant, the public works director, had estimated the reduction in trash would be around 27 percent. The city now has to make only one trip a day to Westbrook to dispose of trash instead of two, saving time, money and wear on trucks, he said.

Since last July, Biddeford’s recycling tonnage has increased 146 percent, from 943 tons to 2,321 tons. That took almost 4,000 tons out of the waste stream and saved about $220,000 on tipping fees for disposal of trash, Guy Casavant said.

Guy Casavant said he also is surprised but pleased that the city has not had a load of recycling rejected for containing too much non-recyclable material.

“The zero-sort program makes it very simple. Most people are getting it,” he said.

As a result of the recycling surge, the city also has sold fewer trash bags, which residents are required to use as part of its companion pay-to-throw program. The city sold about $100,000 worth of bags, some $30,000 below the projection.

“That was the hope of the program. If you limit trash, people pay more attention to what is recyclable,” Guy Casavant said. “If you tie it to someone’s pocketbook, they’re more apt to pay attention.”


City officials said they have received few complaints from residents about the new program, even though the switch involved changed pickup days in some parts of Biddeford. They speculate that part of the buy-in to the program comes from a recognition that it is saving the city money.

The solid waste budget was reduced by $230,000 for the current fiscal year, making it the only part of the budget that went down. City officials said that reduction helped keep the property tax increase lower than it would have been.

“I think people know it’s a program that saves the city money,” said Martin Grohman, chairman of the Solid Waste Commission.

Grohman said some of the program’s success can be credited to the outreach before its launch and to ongoing education. The local public-access channel aired segments about how to recycle, and each home was provided with a guide on how to use the zero-sort system.

City Councilor Mike Ready called the first year of curbside recycling “exceptional” and said he gets lots of positive feedback from residents.

“What I really hear for the most part is how easy the program is,” he said. “I thought it would take longer to get to the numbers we’re at now. You don’t see programs in the first year at 32 percent for recycling.”

Resident Richard Hudon, who has lived in Biddeford for about five years, said he welcomed curbside recycling because it is easier and saves him a trip to the recycling center.

“I personally feel it forced people to recycle more unless they want to pay for orange bags,” he said. “I find myself being able to recycle more. The non-sort aspect of it is awesome.”

The few complaints the city has dealt with tended to be in connection with apartment buildings, according to city officials. Larger apartment buildings and condominiums are not allowed to participate in the program and those property owners must make their own arrangements for trash disposal. The recycling center at the public works facility remains open to all residents.

Guy Casavant said he is considering how to adjust the hours at the recycling center to better fit the needs of the community. The City Council reduced the number of hours it can be open each week from 66 to 40, but gave the public works director the ability to choose the days and times. The volume of recyclable material brought to the recycling center has dropped by 45 percent.

The Solid Waste Commission is now turning its focus to further reducing the amount of trash thrown away by selling compost bins. Food waste accounts for about 40 percent of the weight of trash in the city, Grohman said. The city now has compost bins available for $50 and has already sold close to 50 bins.

Alan Casavant, the mayor, said he thinks the initial success of the program and the shedding of the city’s stigma are helping people in Biddeford get excited about its future.

“To see this transformation work successfully I think is huge for the community,” he said.