To all those whose work is deemed essential to public health and safety and who have remained at their posts during the corona outbreak, we express our admiration and gratitude. Among the front-line folks, let us not forget those who continue to process and move the trash and recyclables that our households, not temporarily shuttered like many of our commercial enterprises, continue to generate on a daily basis. To all of our waste-management personnel, we extend a heartfelt “thank you” and our sincere wishes that you are able to perform your activities in a way that ensures your own safety, as well as that of your families and the community at large.
In this context, we provide here a timely report on how our transfer stations and recycling center are adapting to the crisis and what each of us is being asked to do to help make the task easier. We spoke to personnel at Lincoln County Recycling and at all our county transfer stations except the Wiscasset and Waldoboro facilities, neither of which, along with their town offices, had responded to multiple phone messages by March 29. The Wiscasset transfer station, however, had posted a message on its website on which we have drawn for this summary.
Not surprisingly, given that each of the county’s waste-management facilities operates under their own distinct protocols, the adjustments each has made to the virus outbreak differ in detail. However, there are a few general changes that seem to apply across the board.
In every case, the interface between residents and transfer station staff has been modified to maintain the requirement of social distancing. This includes asking the public not to enter the buildings or offices at the various locations. These precautions are designed to minimize staff exposure to the public. Another common safety measure that has been implemented is the temporary closure of swap shops or pick-over areas of materials for reuse.
Other modifications that some facilities have taken include reductions in the hours of operation and the types and manner of materials which are currently being accepted. One of the immediate changes we’re tracking concerns the fate of recyclables. Here are some specifics that apply to individual stations as of March 29.
Lincoln County Recycling routinely retrieves recyclables from all our county transfer stations, except the Boothbay Region facility. They have continued to make pickups of recyclables, and food scrap bins, but a few of the transfer stations have temporarily asked them not to do so. These include Wiscasset, Pittston, and Warren, the latter two towns being serviced under contract with the county.
Lincoln County Recycling has shifted to a half-time schedule, Monday-Friday from 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., with its five employees, as always, using safety equipment when sorting and baling recyclables to avoid handling materials directly.
According to its website, the Wiscasset Transfer Station “will be accepting garbage only until further notice.” They have suspended all recycling so staff can avoid coming into contact with these materials, which residents may stockpile at home for the future or dispose of in their trash bags.
Similarly, the Boothbay Region Refuse Disposal District will also temporarily prohibit all drop-off of recyclable materials and returnable bottles/cans at the facility. But the site manager, Steve Lewis, confirmed that there are no changes to its processing of construction and demolition debris, or stewardship items, such as fluorescent bulbs, e-waste, and rechargeable batteries.
Boothbay will now only be open five days a week instead of six. The facility will be closed on Wednesday, in addition to Sunday, to allow it to split its staff into two crews each working two weeks on and two weeks off.
Residents who use the Boothbay and Wiscasset transfer stations can take some comfort in the knowledge that, despite the temporary interruption of recycling activities, these materials, when added to the trash, may ultimately be recovered mechanically at the Fiberight facility in Hampden where both facilities haul their solid waste.
Residents who use the Nobleboro-Jefferson Transfer Station are asked to check the weekly “Waste Watch” column in this paper, the transfer station’s website, and signage at the station to keep abreast of updates. Staff are providing service as close to normal as possible, while instituting several temporary changes.
They are asking people to limit their disposal trips, move as quickly as possible through the site, and interact with staff only in the parking area, using social distancing precautions. Socializing among the public, in general, is being discouraged. If customers are self-isolating and need a trash pickup, they may call the staff, which will provide the names and phone numbers of commercial haulers operating in the area.
While still accepting recyclable materials, Nobleboro-Jefferson is asking customers to take extra care to place items in the correct containers, as staff will no longer be checking and resorting them. For the time being, they are asking customers to postpone bringing in product stewardship materials like electronics, paint, etc. They are also not currently accepting returnable bottles and cans and are asking customers to take these items to a redemption center.
Bonus Redemption Newcastle is still collecting returnables for deposit, but is asking patrons to leave items outside on the porch with a name and phone number rather than bring them into the building. Deposit money can then be picked up curbside.
The Dresden Transfer Station is operating on its normal schedule, albeit with a reduced staff, with one person handling trash and another recyclables. They are still collecting recyclables and are trying to minimize close contact with the public while otherwise keeping things running smoothly. They are asking anyone who is sick to refrain from coming to the station.
The Bristol-South Bristol Transfer Station is continuing to accept all materials previously collected. The only significant change is that members of the public are no longer allowed into the recycling area of the building. Cans, glass, and plastic are now being collected in bins lined along the building’s outer edge, while materials like cardboard and mixed paper must be deposited directly into the large green containers. The drive-through trash disposal bay remains open.
The Tri-County Transfer Station also continues to receive all items previously accepted. Employees at the station are maintaining social distance and employing safety measures, and only the drive-through section where trash is deposited is open to the public.
The recycling building in Whitefield, behind the town office, is closed. The open-air recycling bins remain in place, but aren’t being monitored to ensure proper disposal.
Whitefield residents who take their trash to the Hatch Hill landfill are being discouraged from making multiple trips with small quantities of trash. Toward that end, Hatch Hill has implemented a flat fee for trash, normally paid by weight, at $10 per passenger car and $15 for pickups and cars with trailers to discourage frequent trips. No cash will be accepted by the scale attendant, only debit and credit cards.
As readers can see, each of the transfer stations is adapting to the current situation in its own way, and policies at each of the stations may continue to evolve on a day-to-day basis as conditions warrant. Please be respectful of the interim modifications that have been implemented to protect employee and public safety, and be prepared to adjust to them appropriately.
(Mark Ward and Michael Uhl are citizen journalists investigating recycling and waste-management issues in Lincoln County. Mark, of Bristol, is a biologist. Michael, of Walpole, is a writer.)