ELLSWORTH — Beginning in 2019, Ellsworth residents will no longer be able to recycle glass, box board (such as Kleenex and cereal boxes) and No. 3-7 plastics (which include single-use plastic bags, Styrofoam, shampoo bottles and some yogurt containers).
The city will continue to accept corrugated cardboard, plastics numbered 1 and 2, polyethylene terephthalate (PET or PETE or polyester) and high-density polyethylene (HDPE). This includes some water and juice containers, milk jugs, peanut butter jars and detergent bottles.
Councilors voted unanimously Monday night to approve the changes to the recycling program.
“There have been some significant changes in the recycling market,” said Deputy City Manager Tammy Mote.
“Recycling revenues have always been volatile and cyclical,” Mote wrote in a memo to councilors. “However, over the past couple of years, the big changes in the market result from Chinese import issues and their government initiating major pollution control initiatives, which is affecting global recycling markets and causing declining revenue from the sale of recyclables.”
There may be more changes if the market for the recyclables continues to decline, Mote wrote.
The city was sending glass to other municipalities to use as fill, but “They’re no longer accepting that,” said Mote, “so now we’re having to dump it in our MSW compactors.”
Mills, which once took box board and corrugated cardboard, are now requesting corrugated cardboard only.
City Councilor Dawn Hudson said she imagines that some residents will be upset over the changes.
“But I think it’s important to understand that if we do accept those [recyclables] it’s a misnomer. We aren’t recycling. If we don’t have a market where we can send the stuff to be recycled, then it’s landfill … people think they’re recycling things that they are not.”
Council Chairman Marc Blanchette pointed out that much of the non-recyclable material has been sent to Penobscot Energy Recovery Co. (PERC) in Orrington to be burned for energy.
Councilor Gary Fortier, however, added that PERC was bypassing much of its material to a landfill this summer, and expressed frustration with the way the state disposes of waste.
“There shouldn’t be anything going into a landfill that hasn’t been sorted for recyclable or burnt for combustibles,” Fortier said.
Responding to a question from the floor, Fortier said sending recyclables to Portland-based ecomaine would be too expensive.
Residents will be notified about the changes in a variety of ways. Councilors also advocated for more education regarding what is recyclable and how to properly do so.
Public Works Director Lisa Sekulich stressed that materials must be clean. Anything with food remains, antifreeze remnants or other traces of waste will be thrown out, Sekulich said.
“There are a lot of reasons why things, even though they have a 1 through 7 number on the bottom, aren’t recyclable,” Sekulich said. “It has to be clean. If there’s yogurt left on it, or Tide left in your jug, contaminant, it has to be thrown away. It’s not just a number.”