Sanford’s rate of recycling ‘contaminated’ by plastic bags and other recycling no-nos, has declined significantly. The rate had been in the double digits this past summer. TAMMY WELLS/Journal Tribune file photo

SANFORD — Residents in Sanford are paying attention to the sort of items they put into their recycling bins and that has translated into some good news.

The “contamination” rate for Sanford ‘s recycling is for the most part down to 1 percent and sometimes ventures into 2 or 3 percent, said City Manager Steve Buck. That means the city will be able to avoid penalties that could be as much as $100,000 annually, had the contamination rate remained on its previous path.

Sanford disposes of its recycled material at  Ecomaine, the Portland-based waste company owned by 21 municipalities that serves 74 communities in 11 Maine counties, at no charge, as do many of Ecomaine’s municipal customers. The city contracts with Pine Tree Waste to haul the material to Ecomaine.

But world markets for recycled materials plummeted this summer, which meant Ecomaine had to pay to dispose of some recycled material, rather than sell it.

That meant Ecomaine became more vigilant about what recycled material it accepted.

This past summer, some householders who put their bins out as usual at curbside found their recycling hadn’t been picked up because it contained plastic bags, polystyrene foam, clothing and other items. Instead, they found notes from the waste hauler, outlining what wasn’t acceptable. The notes came after Sanford received two bills from Ecomaine totaling about $5,500 — a penalty for having an estimated 25 percent contamination rate by volume in recycled materials. Later, the city installed links to recycling information on their website, and sent out notices outlining what was acceptable and what wasn’t.

It was a difficult three-week period of adjustment, said Buck in a recent report to the City Council.

“The results though, are a story of success as the city is no longer incurring penalties for having greater than 5 percent contamination in its loads of recyclables,” said Buck.

In world markets, Grondin, the Ecomaine spokesman, said while the company still pays to dispose of  paper, the cost was $10 or $20 a ton to get rid of it, that figure is far less than at the height of the recycling downturn, when the company was paying $60 a ton to dispose of some types of paper.

He said markets for plastic are more positive.

For contaminated recycling, the rate remains at an overall 11 percent if all 74 communities are counted, Grondin said.

“Sanford has been doing really well,” at 1, 2 and 3 percent, he said.

Buck said Sanford continues to work with Pine Tree Waste and Ecomaine on what he called a sustainable, long term approach to encourage recycling, minimize the cost of processing and disposal, “and maximize the benefits of a community doing it right.”

“Discussions are ongoing with Ecomaine on a disposal contract beyond June of 2019 as well as a new contract for hauling with Pine Tree Waste in a greatly modified manner,” said Buck. He said City Council’s Solid Waste Committee will be called upon call upon to re-examine options like automated collections.

Some of Sanford’s young people will be able to hear and do more about recycling. Carl J. Lamb School is among 13 schools sharing a grant from Ecomaine for recycling bins, field trips and materials for the school’s Recycling Team.

— Senior Staff Writer Tammy Wells can be contacted at 780-9016 or [email protected]

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