COLUMBIA FALLS — Forget recycling as it’s always been done Downeast. There’s a new system in town.
The Pleasant River Solid Waste Disposal District has long promoted the fact that it accepts anything that can be recycled, from plastics to textiles. However, all the windows at the transfer station on Route 1 where people used to drop off their recyclables are now closed.
But recyclables are not being sent directly to a landfill, said Manager Fran Havey. Recycling is just being done differently.
The disposal district, founded in 1993, is in the midst of reinventing itself, following a difficult year. It was originally organized to provide trash disposal services to Jonesport, Jonesboro, Columbia, Columbia Falls, Beals and Addison. At their town meetings in March 2019, residents of Jonesport and Columbia Falls voted not to renew the agreement that kept them in the disposal district. Their withdrawal means Jonesport and Columbia Falls no longer support the disposal district financially.
Since then, officials from the disposal district and member municipalities have been ironing out the details of separation and looking for new ways for the district to survive. A change in how trash is handled is one of those developments.
As of Jan. 1, the district began sending waste to Coastal Resources of Maine in Hampden, which was founded by parent company Fiberight. Coastal Resources, now owned by Fiberight and equity investor Ultra Capital, operates from a building owned by the Municipal Review Committee, or MRC.
Coastal Resources takes in municipal waste and, using Fiberight machinery at the plant, separates recyclables such as certain plastics and metals from the waste stream. The consumer does not need to separate recyclables from regular trash.
At the moment, Fiberight is diverting roughly half the material it takes in. That means roughly 50 percent is being landfilled while the other 50 percent is either recovered for recycling, sold or converted to biofuel. The goal for the future is to divert 70 to 80 percent, so that only 20 to 30 percent of waste must be landfilled, said Shelby Wright, the company’s director of community service.
“Most people understand that now their trash gets recycled in a different way,” Havey said.
Anyone can bring their trash to the disposal district. Those who live in the member towns pay 8 cents a pound for disposal. People from elsewhere pay 12 cents a pound. Havey said many residents of nonmember towns do bring their trash to the transfer station.
One of the district’s most popular services, Too Good to Toss, will continue, Havey said. Too Good to Toss is an on-site thrift outlet where everything is free for the taking. People donate clothing, books, toys, games and household items, which are stocked in the store by volunteers.
“It’s a great service,” Havey said.
Looking toward the future, the district is working on a business plan that officials hope will include new services and other ways of making money such as by selling corrugated cardboard.
The district also needs to find an attorney not affiliated with any of the member towns. This is a challenging prospect because of the limited number of lawyers who practice municipal law. The district is also looking for a bookkeeper.
“I feel like it took so much energy to get to the end of the year successfully,” Havey said. “For a while we didn’t know what to do.”