Trash is cleared at the Graham Road Landfill in Brunswick. (Times Record File Photo)

BRUNSWICK — In an effort to avoid landfilling Brunswick’s recyclables for the next year, officials might eliminate glass from the recycling stream as the town grapples with a collapsed global market and mounting costs. 

Glass accounts for about 15% of the town’s recycled material, and is by far the heaviest component. 

By removing glass, officials hope to reduce the overall weight of material, therefore reducing the cost of recycling, which last year increased from about $40 per ton to nearly $140 per ton. It costs $80 per ton to dispose of trash. 

The proposal is still under consideration. Any change necessitates an ordinance amendment, which would trigger more public meetings. 

Though throwing glass jars and bottles in with the rest of the recyclables will likely be a hard habit for residents to break, the change was preferred to a controversial proposal to bring the town’s recyclables to the landfill for the next year. 

In the most recent draft of the next municipal budget, Eldridge suggested that Brunswick continue curbside collection of residential recyclables but instead of bringing them to the Lewiston processing facility, Pine Tree Waste would bring them to the landfill. 

Eldridge said he knew the proposal would be controversial. Brunswick has a long history of recycling, and was one of the first Maine towns to start a recycling program, he said, but with the current “dire” economic conditions, he could not ignore the potential $75,000 in savings. 

The recycling and sustainability committee, which spent the better part of the past year developing a plan to help Brunswick not only save money on recycling, but also create a more sustainable and environmentally friendly future, said in a memo to the council that it would be “extremely short-sighted” to eliminate the program and “even worse” to collect recyclables and landfill them, even temporarily. 

“Commodity prices have been trending up and, coupled with other structural program changes that need to be made, the (single stream recycling) program can again become both an economic and environmental benefit to the town,” members wrote. 

Instead, committee member Steve Weems presented another option — a voluntary  “fee for tag” program. In this program, people wishing to recycle would pay $25 for a tag that lasts for the year. Tagged bins would be taken to the processing plant and those not participating would put their recyclables in the blue bags with the rest of their trash. Weems said the committee anticipated high participation, and estimated that if 60% of households took part, the program could make up for the $75,000 that would be saved by taking all the recyclables to the landfill. 

This, though, would be extremely difficult to roll out by the summer, Eldridge said, and councilors ultimately decided that eliminating glass was the more practical solution. 

Councilor Christopher Watkinson said the town should not look at the move as a step back, but rather as a temporary pause on that one small aspect of the program” until a better solution can be worked out. It is, he said, “a likely and logical place to start.” 

If passed, the change is intended to be a short-term solution that eventually would be reversed. 

In 2018, according to the committee, the town generated approximately 5,534 tons of solid waste from residential curbside collection, municipal facilities and schools. Residential curbside collection and municipal facilities generated approximately 2,519 tons of recycling. 

If glass isn’t being recycled, it will likely be thrown away, meaning residents will purchase more townwide blue trash bags, further generating revenue for the town. 

Officials suspended pay-as-you-throw in March to help residents save money and limit unnecessary trips to the grocery store, but councilors voted Monday to reinstate the requirement June 1.

Eldridge estimated the town has lost roughly $20,000 since suspending the program. 

Moving forward

The council also voted on Monday to use the committee’s suggestions as a framework for developing the town’s future solid waste plans. 

Committee chair Jennifer Hicks said in March that they tried to make the plan “as forward-thinking and useful as possible for it doesn’t turn into a relic” as times and markets change.

The plan identifies the need for a short term solid waste management transition plan after the town closes the landfill, as well as a long term plan that will help Brunswick move toward a “zero waste future,” reduces the total tons of waste and stabilizes the costs.

The committee recommends the town follows the “waste hierarchy” by focusing first on reduction, then on reuse, followed by composting, waste to energy and then the landfill. Waste should be separated in the homes and businesses in order to be effective, Hicks said. 

The town should also launch a public education campaign, working with the schools, commercial sector, waste management vendors, and the community through visits and public workshops.  

“Brunswick residents have demonstrated a high commitment to recycling, despite limited amount of public education,” according to the committee, but they need guidance. Details on the campaign and how it might be funded are still in the works.

Short term goals include a 40% reduction in municipal solid waste in the next 10 years. 

The goal is, admittedly, aggressive, Hicks said, but it is important to have a measurable goal. 

“Based on current realities – notably the intent to close the Graham Road landfill in the spring of 2021, the prospect of reduced municipal revenues and budget pressures from the effects of the coronavirus and other factors (e.g., school construction), and the need for better data to plan a rational future – the committee thinks the short-term solid waste management plan essentially should be a ‘holding action,’” committee members wrote. 

This would entail closing the Graham Road landfill as scheduled and holding everything else in place, buying more time to explore and document the best options for the medium and long-term goals. 

This includes: entering into a one-year contract extension with Pine Tree Waste with provisions for the trash to go to Juniper Ridge Landfill when the town landfill closes, initiating the landfill closure process, maintaining the existing landfill infrastructure, permits and operations to keep the site as a viable option for a transfer station, continuing the existing single-stream recycling program with Pine Tree  for the next year (minus the glass), completing an analysis of the current waste management costs and investigating some of the state’s options for waste disposal, like Pine Tree (Casella), Ecomaine, Mid-Maine Waste Action Corporation, Penobscot Energy Recovery Company, Crossroad Landfill in Norridgewock and Juniper Ridge Landfill in Old Town.

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