Cyndi Nielsen unloads cardboard at the Greene Transfer Station in April. Sun Journal file photo

Hoping to spur more recycling, U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, a Maine Republican, is pushing a bipartisan measure that would provide $75 million to help educate Americans about the program.

Trash on a Lewiston street waits to be collected in April. The recycling rate in Lewiston and Auburn is only about 8%. Statewide recycling programs are struggling. Sun Journal file photo

The point of the proposed program is to “ensure communities and consumers are aware of ways to increase the quantity and quality of recycled materials and to provide states and local governments with best practices on improving recycling rates.,” Collins said in a prepared statement.

The measure, the RECYCLE Act of 2019, was introduced by U.S. Sens. Rob Portman, an Ohio Republican, and Debbie Stabenow, a Michigan Democrat. Collins is one of three additional co-sponsors.

The bill takes aim at one of the problems that has held back recycling in communities such as Lewiston and Auburn: a lack of participation and high rates of improper materials tossed in with acceptable recycling.

The Twin Cities’ recycling rate is an anemic 8%, far below the 38% achieved in Portland and even further behind communities elsewhere in America, such as San Jose, California, where 80% of residents recycle.

Portman said in a prepared release that “education and outreach is a key pillar to improving recycling rates and reducing contamination in our recycling stream.”


Stabenow said in the release that the grant program proposed by the lawmakers would “help households understand what can and cannot be recycled” while investing in programs that would improve recycling practices across the country.

If enacted, the proposal would provide $15 million per year for five years to states, localities nonprofits and others to increase the visibility of recycling programs.

David Biderman, executive director of the Solid Waste Association, said in a news release that “for recycling to remain sustainable in the United States, the public needs to better understand its important role in reducing contamination and increasing valuable materials in the recycling bin.”

“Congressional action would send a powerful message that the federal government prioritizes recycling,” Biderman said.

Grocery Manufacturers Association President Geoff Freeman said in a written statement his industry “is continuously innovating its packaging, making it more recyclable every day — but that recyclable packaging has increasingly fewer places to go as more cities and counties retreat from recycling programs.”

“We know that consumer confusion over what is and is not recyclable is one of the top reasons why trash still ends up in recycling bins, and valuable recyclables end up in the trash,” Keefe Harrison, chief executive officer of The Recycling Partnership, said in a prepared statement.


The Senate measure calls on the Environmental Protection Agency to dole out the cash for activities ranging from public service announcements to labeling signs for recycling bins.

Eligible programs would include efforts for door-to-door education of residents, local media outreach, creating tool kits for municipal and commercial recycling and any other efforts that administrators believe would help.

“Recycling is essential to keeping our lands, waters, and other natural treasures free of plastic and other sources of pollution, helping to preserve our nation’s stunning beauty,” Collins said in a prepared statement.

For the bill to become law, it needs the backing of Senate and House as well as the president’s signature.

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