The leader of Maine’s leading waste manager described the decision by an increasing number of communities in Maine and nationwide to pause or entirely abandon dedicated municipal recycling programs ‘a mistake.’ In an address to the Maine Town, City and County Management Association, ecomaine’s CEO, Kevin Roche spelled out concerns for municipalities that would consider ceasing recycling operations.
“It worries me when I see headlines about communities ditching recycling,” said Roche. “Because I know how long we all worked to get them going. We’ve come a long way after 30 years – and we always need to look for improvements – but recycling is still far better than the alternative, which is landfilling this material.”
In a presentation to more than 100 town and city managers and other municipal staff, Roche outlined the recent challenges presented by the markets for recyclable materials, but urged patience and leadership, as the markets make their comeback.
“Recycling is a long-term strategy,” he said. “When it comes to sustainable solid waste management, we have to do the math over many years, and even decades, not month to month or year to year. From 2005 to 2019, if ecomaine’s member communities had put the 500,000 tons of recycling into the trash, those communities would have paid $36 million. In the very short term, recycling may be more expensive today, but we know that over time, landfilling is far more expensive.”
Since 2018, markets for recyclable materials have been challenged by China’s national policy to accept only the cleanest material, contamination rates of recycling loads globally, as well as the evolution of packaging materials in waste streams. However, Roche remained steadfast in the recycling industry’s ability to find long-term solutions and asked for municipal leaders’ support.
“We need your help to promote recycling, and to maintain these important programs. We need to stay committed to the solid waste hierarchy – and we can do that with your leadership.”