A team of interns will be inspecting curbside recycling bins in Portland and Scarborough this fall for materials that could contaminate the recycling stream.

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

The initiative, announced Monday by ecomaine, expands a recycling outreach and education program that began in South Portland and Westbrook earlier this year. Interns in those communities are only authorized to lift the lid of bins, but not to rummage through them.

The program is designed to educate consumers about what items should or should not be recycled, ecomaine spokesman Matt Grondin said in a news release. Poor recycling practices cost towns and taxpayers money because time and manpower must be spent removing non-recyclable items from the recycling stream.

Beginning in October, the interns will place red tags on bins they consider contaminated with material such as household trash. Those bins will not be collected by Pine Tree Waste and a note explaining why will be attached to the tag. Uncontaminated bins will receive a green tag; a yellow tag will be placed on loads that have one or two items that are not recyclable, according to ecomaine. The interns will be assigned to collection routes in those towns where data indicates high levels of contamination.

“We learned a great deal in our 2019 pilot program about the importance of education and the impact these interns can have,” ecomaine chairman and Scarborough Public Works Director Mike Shaw said. Scarborough’s pilot outreach program last year resulted in decreasing contamination among recyclable waste, but contamination is now creeping up again.

“We know from experience that an on-the-ground educational program like this can work to save the city valuable expenses on our recycling and solid waste program,” added Dan Mirabile, deputy director of public works for Portland.

Nearly 40 percent of the everyday goods that Mainers purchase, from laundry detergent to toilet paper, and the paper that these goods arrive in, utilize recyclable materials.

The town of Freeport last year was forced to remove two drop-off recycling containers after residents continued to toss household waste in them. Town officials said the decision, which left Freeport with just two of the containers, would save the save the town about $15,000 a year.

Ecomaine, based in Portland, provides recycling and waste-to-energy services to 20 southern Maine communities.

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