In this Thursday, Oct. 13, 2016, photo, recycled plastic bottle wait to be processed at the Repreve Bottle Processing Center, part of the Unifi textile company in Reidsville, N.C. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

WOOLWICH — Woolwich wants to reduce its recycling costs, and it’s going to have a company go through your recycling bins to get that done.

During the next month, Riverside Refuse, the company that picks up the town’s recycling and transports it to ecomaine’s solid waste facility in Portland, will inspect everyone’s recycling containers at the curb. They will refuse to accept containers with non-recyclable materials or recyclable materials that are in plastic bags.

The company will leave people a note explaining why their material was refused, treating it as a learning moment.

By cutting down the amount of contamination in the town’s recycling containers, Woolwich hopes to drive up the market value of its recycled materials and reduce the cost of its recycling program.

Recycling becomes contaminated when someone mistakenly puts something in the bin that’s not recyclable, or when someone puts their recycling in a plastic bag before putting it in the bin. That plastic is not recyclable and has to be separated from everything else before the rest of the materials can be recycled. That can be costly and time-consuming. Recyclable materials that contain too many contaminants are treated like trash and disposed of as such.

Some items that are commonly found in recycling that are not recyclable include Styrofoam, food waste, electronics, garden hoses and clothing.

In past years, recyclable materials from towns like Woolwich have been sold, offsetting some of the costs of recycling. When recycled materials fetch a good price on the market, recycling actually costs the town less than trash disposal.

“It used to be that there was a market for our recyclable materials, mostly in China, that we could send stuff over there that might have all sorts of these problem materials, and China’s system was set up so that … they would sort it, deal with it and accept it,” said Jonathan Appleyard, chairman of the town’s recycling committee.

That system worked out well for Woolwich and many other Maine towns. Ecomaine could process those materials and sell them, giving some of the profits back to the town.

That’s no longer the case. Those same Chinese companies won’t accept contaminated materials anymore, which means that Woolwich and other towns must find somewhere else to take their contaminated materials.

“Ecomaine has found a number of markets for clean recyclables, but they won’t touch what used to be sold to China,” said Appleyard.

Now, he said, ecomaine will charge municipalities a fee if their recyclables are too contaminated.

Increasing fees are charged when materials are more than 10 percent contaminated. Woolwich’s recycling is generally between 20-30 percent contaminated and can cost the town as much as a couple hundred dollars a month.

Appleyard said that the committee’s wants to see Woolwich’s recycling to meet ecomaine’s threshold of 10 percent contaminated materials.

“From a financial point of view, as well as an environmental point of view, it really does make sense to learn how to do this better,” said Appleyard.

The Recycling and Solid Waste Committee is launching an education initiative to get Woolwich residents to stop putting non-recyclable material in the recycling. Volunteers passed out information on what is and isn’t recyclable on Election Day, and have continued to inform residents on how to recycle properly.

Information on what can be recycled is available at the town office or online at ecomaine.org.

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