By Abigail W. Adams
Lincoln County Recycling Program Supervisor Tim Richardson stands in front of baled mixed paper at the recycling center in Wiscasset on Jan. 16. (Abigail
According to its brochure, the Lincoln County recycling program is one of the oldest in New England and the largest in Maine. Currrently under new leadership, the program has a
renewed sense of purpose, and, according to supervisor Tim Richardson, is gearing up “to take off and thrive.”
With increased revenue from the sale of recycled material, and savings to the participating towns, the value of the Lincoln County recycling program exceeded its
costs in 2014. The program, however, is still not self-sustainable, officials say.
The Lincoln County recycling program services 10 transfer stations that serve 24 municipalities in Sagadahoc, Lincoln, Knox, and Waldo counties. The program provides
participating transfer stations with recycling bins and barrels and conducts approximately 25 pick-ups a week.
Material picked up daily include newspapers and magazines, mixed plastic, mixed paper, #2 plastic, and tin and glass from transfer stations. In 2014, alone, the
recycling program diverted approximately 2,600 tons of material from landfills.
“Every time we take something away and reuse it, it’s one less thing that goes into the ground,” Richardson said. “We need this for the future.”
The materials collected not only reduce the waste stream, but also generate revenue for the county.
The recycling program consolidates recycled material and sells it to private companies, such as Casella Waste Services and N.H. Kelman. In 2014, those sales
generated approximately $192,000 in revenue. Contracts from towns outside Lincoln County pushed revenue for the recycling program up to $236,688 – over 60 percent of its total
2014 budget of $370,923.
The 2,600 tons of material recycled through the program saved the participating municipalities in Lincoln County $146,699. The combined savings and revenue from the
program gave it a total value that exceeded its 2014 operational budget by over $10,000.
According to Lincoln County Administrator John O’Connell, the good work of personnel at the recycling program and transfer stations to prevent contamination of the
recycled material has helped with sales.
“The customers know they’re getting a good product,” O’Connell said.
The highest breadwinner in the market of recycled products is #2 plastics such as milk jugs, shampoo bottles, and detergent containers. Despite the low return on
mixed plastics, which are marked with numbers 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, or 7, the Lincoln County recycling program continues to collect them to keep them out of the waste stream.
The Waldoboro Transfer Station Committee has previously raised questions about the transparency of the recycling program’s budget, due to indirect costs of the
program, such as medical and vehicle insurance, which were contained in separate line items of the county budget in previous years.
“That’s the issue,” Bob Butler, chairman of the transfer station committee, said. “You can’t really measure the efficiency of an operation until you know the whole
picture and it isn’t providing that in an easy manner.”
O’Connell said there had been inadequacies in the accounting of the recycling program but staff were working hard to make sure those issues were addressed. The
medical insurance of the recycling program employees is now included in the recycling department budget.
Insurance for the vehicles used by recycling program is still included in a separate line item in the county budget, O’Connell said, due to convenience and the small
number of vehicles used by the program.
According to Richardson, there had been difficult times at the transfer station in the past with low morale among employees. “We were in a cloud for awhile, but it’s
breaking away,” Richardson said. “I really want to thank all the towns that are giving us the opportunity to show them that we can do this job and do it right.”
Despite the gains made by the recycling program, it is still not a self-sustainable entity.
The recycling program budget in 2015 was increased by approximately 11 percent to $414,090. Recycling program revenue, however, was projected to decrease to
approximately $218,000. According to O’Connell and Richardson, fluctuations in market prices for recycled materials are a major obstacle in predicting the future revenue the
program will generate.
“This is a long term commitment,” O’Connell said.