The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the critical role of the materials that residents all over North America place in their recycling bins.  With more people working and living at home and 40-50% of everyday materials depending on recyclables as feedstock, residential recycling programs have been revealed as essential over the past year.  But contamination – items placed incorrectly in the recycling bin – can degrade the quality and quantity of these important materials.

To provide greater public awareness of what is – and isn’t – recyclable, ecomaine has hired staff to tour recycling and trash collection routes in areas of communities in southern Maine where data indicates levels of higher contamination.  Interns will review residents’ bins and provide educational feedback on the importance of recycling – and recycling properly.  The program will continue across ecomaine’s member communities throughout the year.

During interns’ inspections, they will issue green tags for good recyclables within, yellow tags for loads that have a handful of items that are not recyclable, and red tags for loads with too much contamination or trash.  The bins with red tags are considered overly contaminated and increase costs for the municipality. Therefore, they will not be picked up by the collection company.  The tags will identify item(s) that do not belong in the recycling cart.

“We have seen some really significant results in behavior change due to this program,” said ecomaine Chairman Mike Shaw, Scarborough’s Public Works Director.  “It makes for an environment that’s easier for our residents to recycle right and keep recyclable materials out of landfills.”

When ecomaine staff ran the program in the second half of 2020, significant gains were made in reducing contamination from impacted loads of recyclables – in one case, reducing the contamination rate from higher than 80% down to 25%.

Added Erik Street, Yarmouth’s Public Works Director and ecomaine’s Vice Chairman, “it’s important for Mainers to know what is and what isn’t recyclable – it has a direct cost to municipal budgets that are already stretched as it is.  Keeping recycling clean helps to keep all our costs lower.”

The program will begin in April in neighborhoods in Portland, Scarborough, South Portland, Westbrook, and Yarmouth.  Throughout the year, more communities may be added.  In addition to inspecting recycling, interns will also have additional resources on recycling and trash and how to dispose of particular items.  Residents can also visit for more information.

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