Sustainability coordinators at a recycling program in Scarborough, held in January. From left are, Katrina Bussiere-Venhuizen, ecomaine; Lucy Perkins, South Portland; Kimberly Darling, Falmouth; Jami Fitch, Scarborough; Gretchen Anderson, Windham; and Vanessa Berry, ecomaine. Courtesy / ecomaine

SCARBOROUGH —  Four area towns saved an average of $4,000 in disposal costs and saw a 5% drop in contamination of their recycling through a pilot program that focused on one-to-one outreach this past summer.

Waste management company ecomaine revealed the program’s results for Scarborough, Falmouth, South Portland and Windham Jan. 30.

With the “significant success” of the eight-week pilot program, during which interns walked trash routes and engaged with residents, Matt Grondin, communications manager at ecomaine, said this week he hopes the four towns continue with the outreach effort and other communities will join.

He said ecomaine processes 40,000 tons of recycling each year from more than 70 member communities, and the value of those recyclables depends on the loads being as free from contamination as possible.

With new challenges facing the recycling market – including less demand for items like mixed paper – Grondin said instead of ecomaine paying communities for their recycling, the trash plant now charges a flat fee of $35 per ton to process the materials. It also charges an additional graduated fee for any loads with a contamination rate above 5%, with a top fee of $73 per ton.

Scarborough and Falmouth had the most success with the recycling outreach program, according to data provided by ecomine at last week’s session.

Scarborough reached 446 households, which reduced their contamination rate by 84%, saving the town $9,890. The interns in Falmouth reached 610 households and saw a nearly 100% reduction in recycling contamination, saving $96.

South Portland reached 2,259 households that reduced their contamination rate by 55%, saving the city $5,700. And in Windham, 900 household were reached and reduced their recycling contamination by 28%, resulting in a savings of $271.

This week, sustainability coordinators in three of the communities said they hope to continue, but it will likely depend on whether their councils agree to include funds to pay the interns in their fiscal year 2021 budgets.

Falmouth will not continue the intern program because town officials feel it is not needed.

“Due to the success of this pilot program, and our most recent contamination report being at 6%, Falmouth will not be continuing this program this coming summer,” Kimberly Darling, the town’s sustainability coordinator, said.

In Scarborough, Sustainability Coordinator Jami Fitch said the pilot was “very successful and very worthwhile,” but while the town saw a “good drop” in the contamination rate, the overall rate is “still high,” which is why the town wants to continue the outreach program.

Gretchen Anderson, the environmental & sustainability coordinator in Windham, said this week she’s not sure if the town will opt-in, but added: “I’m definitely interested in pursuing it further. We saw an overall improvement and our contamination costs went down.”

In South Portland, Sustainability Program Coordinator Lucy Perkins called the pilot “really impactful” and well received by the community. She said whether the program continues depends mostly on whether the city can hire someone to oversee the effort, which required a lot of staff time.

She said the pilot’s success was largely due to the interns “providing a new level of energy and being great ambassadors.” Anderson agreed and said the “repeated, one-on-one outreach,” helped spread the message in ways her office hadn’t been able to do before.

Julie Gourley, one of the interns from Scarborough, said this week she was surprised by the improvement in recycling contamination rates, but was pleased by the “incredible amount of impact we had. One resident told me she couldn’t say enough positive things about the program.”

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