Nearly 40 percent of the everyday goods Mainers purchase, from laundry detergent to toilet paper, and the packaging that these goods arrive in, depend on post-consumer recyclables to meet consumer demand. However, contamination – or trash – in recycling bins can offset the benefits of these materials by degrading the quality and usability. In response, interns from ecomaine will be helping to educate Maine residents about which bin their waste should go in.

Susan Parmelee, left, and Michelle Radley, ecomaine interns in 2020, will provide curbside recycling education in South Portland and Westbrook. ecomaine photo

ecomaine has hired interns to tour recycling and trash collection routes in areas of South Portland and Westbrook where data indicates levels of higher contamination. Interns will review residents’ bins and provide educational feedback on the importance of recycling – and recycling properly. Interns will work in a portion of each municipality during the summer and fall; residents living in these areas will receive mailed notification about the program. The program may expand beyond the two municipalities, as the program progresses.

During interns’ inspections, they will issue green tags for a job well done, yellow tags for loads that have one or two items that are not recyclable, and red tags for loads with too many items that cannot be recycled – including trash. The bins with red tags are considered contaminated and increase costs for the municipality. Therefore, they will not be picked up. The tags will identify item(s) that do not belong in the recycling cart; loads with red tags cannot be collected.

“We learned a great deal in our 2019 pilot program about the importance of education and the impact these interns can have,” said ecomaine Chairman Mike Shaw. “We are glad to be providing educational support to our member communities again this year and we are grateful for their partnerships.”

Westbrook’s Sustainability Coordinator Lynn Leavitt said, “Since we recently joined ecomaine as a new member community, we realize that some residents may not be aware of the do’s and don’ts of single-sort recycling. We’re very hopeful that this program will help increase awareness of recyclable items versus trash.”

Thorvald Arnell, left, and Julie Gourlay, interns for ecomaine in 2019, inspect recycling bins for contamination. ecomaine photo

This is the third year the city of South Portland has been part of such a program. As such, they know the value of education in solid waste management. “We saw a decrease of 6 percent in citywide recycling contamination during last year’s internship,” said Sustainability Director Julie Rosenbach. “We know that this can work, and we’re glad to be a partner in it again this year.”

In addition to inspecting recycling, interns will also have additional resources on recycling and trash and how to dispose of particular items. Residents can also visit for more information.

Matt Grondin is responsible for communications, outreach and education programs at ecomaine. He can be reached at or 207-523-3108.

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