ELLSWORTH — Fiberight’s Coastal Resources facility in Hampden is up and running. Now, the next step is to ensure that the plant can sell some of the byproducts of the 180,000 tons of municipal trash per year that is expected to pass through Fiberight’s gates.
“We’re working with the Department of Environmental Protection to achieve our beneficial use permits and licenses for our materials, so we can start to market them in the state,” said Shelby Wright, director of community services for Fiberight. “We’ve integrated out the plant and we’re producing the pulp, biogas and fuel briquettes.”
Coastal Resources accepts all municipal waste, including recyclables and organic material. That municipal waste is sorted into different components, which are then broken down, or “pulped,” and washed, separating recyclable material from organic waste and other items.
The “pulp” can then be resold as cardboard, insulation, mulch or oil-absorbent materials. Food and other organic waste are sent to an anaerobic digester, which coverts the material into biogas. Other materials can be processed as fuel briquettes.
Unusable material, about 20 percent overall of what is received, would ultimately be landfilled.
Wright said the Environmental Protection Agency has approved testing of some of Fiberight’s products out of state. Permitting from the DEP would allow the facility to begin marketing them in Maine.
Construction of the $70-million Coastal Resources facility began in 2017 and was delayed repeatedly. Fiberight officials cited weather and a lawsuit filed by the Penobscot Energy Recovery Co. (PERC). Municipal waste from some of the 115 towns in the Municipal Review Committee (MRC) was sent to landfills in the interim.
The MRC is a nonprofit organization founded in 1991 to help member communities manage solid waste issues.
The Coastal Resources facility began accepting waste at the end of April, gradually expanding its capacity over the summer.
“As of Nov. 4 we had 100 percent of MRC waste being delivered to us,” Wright said.
Once fully permitted, the Coastal Resources facility would be among the first of its kind, and the first major commercial application of Fiberight’s technology, which accepts municipal waste and recyclables in a single stream.
This comes on the heels of a global downturn in the market for recyclable materials, sparked mainly by a decision in China — the world’s largest importer of plastics and other recyclables — to stop accepting contaminated materials. With the market gutted, many communities have cut back or simply stopped recycling.
“Obviously, markets are very much in flux and not like they used to be,” Wright said.
One hope with Fiberight is that it will allow many communities to sustain their recycling programs. MRC members currently pay $35 per ton of recyclables and $70 per ton of municipal waste. With Coastal Resources able to process all waste in a single stream, many towns in the MRC have stopped separating trash and recyclables.
“Conversion is definitely increasing,” said MRC Executive Director Michael Carroll. “We’ve seen a lot of the bigger municipalities like Bangor do that. MDI just went over. So we’re starting to see many members take that up.”
Last month, the Mount Desert Islander reported that the town of Mount Desert had gone “one bin all in,” citing cost savings.
Wright added that single stream “is a shift in public thinking, to start thinking of your trash can as a recycling bin, but continue to treat your recycling like you normally would so that it can make a better product.”
In addition to the DEP permitting process, MRC recently completed performance testing for the facility, in order to demonstrate that the plant could reuse well over 50 percent of the recycled material it takes in.
“We’re going over that data now,” said Carroll, “But as of now everything is going to Coastal Resources.”