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

BRUNSWICK — Brunswick will stop accepting glass in recycling Sept. 14 in a temporary measure while officials grapple with a crumbling recycling market and mounting costs. 

Though throwing glass jars and bottles in with the rest of the recyclables likely will be a hard habit for residents to break, the change was approved in May as an alternative to landfilling the towns recyclables for the next year — a controversial proposal offered by Town Manager John Eldridge during the budget season to help save money. 

In making the suggestion, 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 initiate a recycling program, he said, but with the current “dire” economic conditions, he could not ignore the potential $75,000 in savings. In 2019, the cost of recycling jumped from about $40 per ton to $120 per ton, while it costs $80 per ton to dispose of trash.

Glass, the heaviest and therefore most expensive material in the recycling stream, accounts for more than 10% of Brunswick’s recycled waste, said Jay Astle, director of public works. In the past year, residents in the curbside collection program recycled almost 1,200 tons of material, 135 tons of which were glass containers. 

But the glass being collected isn’t even being recycled in the traditional sense. 

Due to “unfavorable market conditions” glass that is sent by the town for recycling is currently being used as a sand substitute, and as daily cover at landfills, rather than as a raw material for new glass products, Astle said. 

Town officials estimate that taking glass out of the stream will save roughly $7,000 in processing costs between now and June 30, 2021.  

The change is intended to be a short-term solution and eventually officials hope to restart glass recycling.

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

This change does not affect returnable glass beverage containers, which should still be brought to area redemption centers. 

Brunswick is not alone in its struggle to cope with drastically increased costs.

In 2017, the Chinese government decided to stop taking highly contaminated recycling from the United States and placed restrictions on certain recyclables, accepting materials with only 0.5% contamination, a drastic decrease from its previous 40% limit. Comparatively, the industry standard for contamination is around 5%, a representative for recycling company ecomaine told The Times Record in an earlier interview. Because of this, costs around the country are rising. 

Brunswick’s recycling and sustainability committee, which is tasked with finding a more long-term solution to the town’s recycling woes, 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 to further reduce costs. Waste should be separated in the homes and businesses in order to be effective. 

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

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