Casella picks up recycling in Westbrook last week. Contamination rates in the city have dipped slightly from about 35% to 32%. Michael Kelley / The Forecaster

The amount of unrecyclable material being brought to Westbrook’s recycling and waste processor has slightly decreased in the past year, but will still cost the city more than $100,000 if the rate doesn’t improve.

Over the past year, contamination rates of recycling have dipped from 35% on average to 32%, however, the city still stands to lose over $136,000 a year from contamination if it goes unchecked, on top of the roughly $163,020 a year recycling costs in general.

According to City Sustainability Coordinator Lynn Leavitt, the cost per ton is about $95 for recycling. The city produces about 1,700 tons of recycling per year, Leavitt said.

With contamination rates over 26% , the fee on top of the tipping rate for recycling is another $75 per ton, or $2,623 a week or $136,396 a year for contamination alone.

Ecomaine  processes Westbrook’s recycling, which is transported by Casella Waste Systems. Ecomaine offers bin tagging programs as well as analyzes the contamination.

“Trash and recycling is an expensive program,” Leavitt said. “Due to changes in the recycling market it has become more expensive. Contamination adds to that expense. Please note that none of this is specific to Westbrook. Most communities are facing this challenge.”

However, dropping contamination to 25% would mean a fee of only $55 per ton, with fees decreasing each four or five percentage drops.

Leavitt said that they are still working on outreach to residents to inform them of proper recycling, with a focus coming this fall the Hamlet neighborhood and Brown Street.

There, they will speak with residents directly and leave educational readings on correct recycling practices, as well as looking in the bins and tagging those with contamination that can be clearly seen just from lifting the lid.

Tagged bins are not collected to avoid adding to contamination rates, but also show where educational efforts should be focused.

“There’s definitely movement in the right direction by Westbrook residents, and I don’t think there was any expectation for a certain percentage on our part,” ecomaine Communications Director Matt Grondin said. “We are glad to work with the City on these improvements.  We didn’t get into the issue with recycling contamination overnight — it took many years — and so I don’t think we can get out of it overnight, either, so we’re looking long-term for some great work with Westbrook.”

According to data from ecomaine, the majority of the recycling contamination is household items, ranging from curtains and blinds to radios and other electronics. Contamination rates vary between 10% and 60%, averaging 32% this year.

“We don’t weigh everything that comes in and ecomaine judges contamination on the floor, but maybe they’re saying 40% and its 38% or something,” Leavitt said. “The other tricky bit is that some of the loads don’t get processed the same day it was collected. So I get that as a number for the next day.”

For questions on recycling residents are asked to reach out to the city recycling department at [email protected]

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