Since its introduction in 2013, Biddeford’s recycling program has led to the diversion of millions of pounds of recyclable materials from the landfill, and is a great success by all measures. We should all be proud of the program.

Our recycling partner, Casella, with their big blue trucks with the automatic arm, circles the neighborhoods of Biddeford each weekday collecting the recyclables you place in your bin. The truck makes more than 9,000 stops.

From there, the truck heads to a recycling facility where the collected items are emptied onto a belt while employees pick out and separate the things you’ve put into your bin, and sort them into their proper categories, to be sent to factories that can use them. This sorting facility handles the recycling from hundreds of thousands of New England households.

Plenty of non-recyclable items come in, unfortunately. That’s too bad because anything that goes through the recycling line and doesn’t fit into one of the major recycling categories gets thrown away. We cannot recycle unusual items. If you put old clothes or a window blind in the recycling bin, we do not have a way to recycle it. It is just taking the scenic route to the landfill and costing us extra money, time, electricity and fuel. It is actually worse for the environment than it would be to throw it away. It might be possible to recycle a garden hose, a bowling ball, or a brake rotor, but not in our program, which is purely dedicated to household items. We do not have a bowling ball factory or an automotive recycler at the other end of our sorting line, waiting for those things. Our customers just want your clean, dry household items — paper, cardboard, plastic (you can leave tops on clean bottles — lids are OK), glass, metal cans and that’s pretty much it. And please no plastic bags, because they jam up the sorting equipment.

Recycling saves the City of Biddeford money, but only if we keep contamination down. In fact, for every 5 percent increase in contamination, we pay approximately an extra $12,000 per year. Our contamination rate is currently 25 percent, meaning that one in four things we put in the big blue bin shouldn’t be in there. Our goal is to reduce it below 15 percent, which would save us a lot of money.

In a recently completed recycling audit, seasonal rentals and vacation properties turned out to be much of the problem. If you rent out your home, please make an extra effort to inform and educate your guests on our program.

Remember, when you put an item that isn’t recyclable in the big blue bin, you can ruin an entire load of thousands of pounds of good material. This is sometimes known as “wishcycling” or hoping that an item is recyclable, even though you know it probably isn’t. A better policy to keep the recycling stream clean is “when in doubt throw it out”.

See a full list of what’s acceptable and print a poster at casella.com/services/recycling/zero-sort-recycling. (Note: the City of Saco has a different recycling provider and slightly different requirements — learn more about that program at https://www.sacomaine.org/departments/public_works/recycling.php).

When it comes to trash, we have some updates there too, especially related to the orange overflow bags. We are trying to reduce the number of orange bags that are used, because they must be loaded into the big orange packer truck by hand, instead of with an automated arm. If you buy a lot of orange overflow bags, you can save money by switching to our new larger trash can, which can be leased from the Public Works Department for $122/yr. It is the same size as the recycle bin, so it can hold a lot more. Plus, that will help us run the trash route faster and more safely.

Don’t forget that in Biddeford in addition to our curbside program, we also have a recycling facility that anyone can visit. We accept cardboard, paper, most plastics, as well as some items that can’t go in the curbside program, like scrap metal. We have a Salvation Army donation station, tire, television and car battery recycling, as well as free pallets and sand. We even accept food waste for composting. It’s all at 371 Hill St. Check the City of Biddeford website for hours.

A final note: the Solid Waste Commission is looking for new volunteer members. Face it, “Solid Waste Commission” is not a great name. But if you’re passionate about trash and recycling, want to help design and improve these programs and help the City of Biddeford reduce costs and improve sustainability, we’d love to have you on the team.

Marty Grohman is executive director of the Environmental & Energy Technology Council of Maine (E2Tech) and chair of the Biddeford Solid Waste Commission. He also coordinates volunteer efforts at West Brook Skating Rink. Reach him at [email protected]

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