Portland officials erred last month when they said that the mixing of recyclables and trash by sanitation workers was neither common nor condoned, confirming Thursday that an investigation showed that the practice was permitted on certain streets in the past.

City spokeswoman Jessica Grondin said in an email that an investigation revealed the practice had been authorized by the city’s former solid waste manager for use on dead-end streets and in tight areas.

Grondin declined to identify the manager, saying it was a personnel matter.

Recycling bins await pickup on Woodmont Street in Portland. City officials acknowledged Thursday that a former manager of solid waste pickup for the city condoned mixing recyclables into the waste stream, in violation of department policy. A spokeswoman for the city said she did not know how many streets or which neighborhoods were affected, or when the former manager started allowing the practice.

Recycling bins await pickup on Woodmont Street in Portland. City officials acknowledged Thursday that a former manager of solid waste pickup for the city condoned mixing recyclables into the waste stream, in violation of department policy. A spokeswoman for the city said she did not know how many streets or which neighborhoods were affected, or when the former manager started allowing the practice. 2016 Press Herald file photo/Derek Davis

Commingling waste with recyclables came under scrutiny last month after Mel May, a resident in Portland’s West End, provided evidence of two public works employees caught on cellphone video throwing trash and recyclables into the same truck during curbside pickups.

May said it wasn’t the first time that she had complained to the city about the practice.

Other residents reported the practice after the video became public, and the city promised to conduct an investigation.

The city found that the public works staff had been commingling trash and recyclables in “some limited situations,” Grondin said in an email Thursday responding to a request for information about the investigation.

Normally, public works crews collect recyclables and trash in separate trucks. But Grondin said the former solid waste manager determined that if the trash truck arrived first on a dead-end or narrow street, its two-man crew could throw the recyclables in the trash.

Grondin did not know how many streets or which neighborhoods were affected or when the former manager started allowing the practice.

Many streets on Portland’s peninsula are so narrow that it is impossible for a trash truck to turn around, she said. In those situations, the trucks have to back down the street.

Commingling of trash and recyclables did not occur when a recycling truck arrived first, Grondin said.

“When the recycling truck would get there first they would load all of the recyclables in the truck first and compact it,” she said. “They would then load the trash on the back of the closed compactor and then unload it at the end of the street for the trash truck to pick up.”

ALTERNATIVE TO DISCIPLINE

Interim public works director Bob Leeman told the Portland Press Herald last month that mixing materials is a violation of department policy.

“It is not the norm. We do take this very seriously. … It is not acceptable. We follow our disciplinary process when that happens, and we will in this case,” Leeman said.

Instead of disciplining the employees, Grondin said, the city held a group meeting involving the public works staff on May 25.

“Given that all involved felt that they were following work rules, it is difficult to point the blame on one individual and make an example of them,” Grondin said in her email. “What we decided to do was to have a group meeting with the entire division to go over all of the rules and expectations so everyone clearly understands what the expectations are.”

Grondin said the meeting was documented by the city as a “verbal consultation,” meaning that each division employee had a warning placed in their files. Grondin said that if any employee in this division is caught mixing trash with recyclables in the future, that employee would face “progressive discipline” outlined in the contract for public works employees.

City Councilor Jon Hinck, chairman of the council’s Energy and Sustainability Committee, was surprised that employees were caught mixing materials and said he hopes Portland can put the incident behind it and move on.

“The reason it (the video) shocked so many people is that there are a lot of people who take the effort and have pride in recycling,” Hinck said Thursday night. “We not only need to continue recycling, we need to achieve more.”

CITY HAS STELLAR RECYCLING RECORD

Grondin said it’s unfortunate that the actions of a few employees are overshadowing the city’s stellar recycling record.

“We are very proud of the fact that we are continually increasing the percentages of the waste stream that is being recycled,” Grondin said. “We are starting new programs in the parks and are always looking for ways to improve.”

She said the City Council will hold a workshop June 13 to discuss ways the city can modernize its solid waste collection system.

Portland sends its solid waste to the ecomaine recycling facility and waste-to-energy incinerator in Portland. The city had a 38 percent recycling rate between July 2015 and the end of April 2016, ranking fifth out of the 27 towns and cities that send waste to ecomaine.

“We pay ecomaine for the trash that we bring to them. It is in our best interest to make sure that we are recycling as many materials as possible,” Grondin said. “There is no incentive for us not to recycle.”