Full trash cans sit alongside Bangor roads. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

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Bob Cappadona is vice president of resource solutions at Casella Waste Systems, Inc.

The news of Auburn’s City Council vote to eliminate its curbside recycling program from its municipal services offerings was a surprise to many of us at Casella, as I am sure it was to many residents in the city as well.

While it is well within the city council’s rights to hold such a vote and come to a decision to eliminate this portion of its contract with Casella, much of the reasoning that was presented for this decision deserves some more context.

It’s difficult to determine actual participation rates when it comes to curbside recycling, what we do know is that Auburn residents sent more than 1 million pounds of recyclables to the Casella recycling facility in Lewiston in 2022 and overall, they are doing a good job of limiting contamination. What this tells us is that the residents who do recycle really care about it and are doing a good job of ensuring the right material goes into their recycling bins.

Those residents should take comfort in knowing that their efforts were not going to waste. The recyclables that Casella collects and processes from Auburn are sold to end markets and made into new products or put to beneficial use. Close followers of recycling markets will know that glass is difficult to recycle in our region, so we have programs to use crushed glass for construction uses such as road base at the landfill. This solution reduces the need for virgin sand and gravel as we actively work with partners to develop new markets for recycled glass.

As has been reported, it is true that recycling commodity prices were down year over year, but they have improved from late 2022 through the first quarter of 2023, and we hope to see this trend continue, which will be helpful to offset costs to customers like Auburn.

Additionally, beginning in 2027 under the new Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) for packaging law, Maine municipalities will be eligible to receive reimbursements for their recycling programs, so abandoning these programs now might result in short-term cost savings that could potentially be offset in the long-term.

We recognize that there is a balance between economic and environmental sustainability that must be met, and we work with all our customers to ensure that is the case. From a greenhouse gas perspective, recycling is better than incineration for every category of material according to  data from the Environmental Protection Agency so the decision to cancel recycling programs cannot be considered an environmental benefit by any reasonable measure.

While the opportunity to serve recycling collection needs of the residents of Auburn through our municipal contract is ending, we are working with the city to establish drop-off locations for residents to continue putting their recyclables to a higher and better use. We will continue to serve the city for its trash collection services and, as such, will continue to partner with the city on its near and long-term materials management needs.

We have extended an invitation to Auburn City Officials to come and visit the recycling facility and get a better understanding of what happens to the material after it leaves the curb and we encourage everyone to visit www.casella.com/recyclebetter for more information.