Rising costs have towns questioning the value of recycling

PORTLAND (WGME) – Local cities and towns find themselves at a crossroads with recycling.

Some say the costs are getting so high, it may not even be worth recycling at all.

At EcoMaine, 40,000 tons of recyclables pass through the belts a year.

"Two years ago, we would be paid over $100 a ton for mixed paper for example, now we're having to pay actually to move that to the marketplace," Matt Grondin of EcoMaine said.

EcoMaine says the marketplace is unstable, because China has stopped buying most of our recyclables, blaming too much contamination.

"Plastic bags are the biggest contamination we face I think,” Grondin said. “Either people not knowing putting plastic bags in the recycling, or bagging up their recyclables"

Right now, EcoMaine says they're at about 11 percent contamination for the recyclables coming through, but through manual sorting to get unwanted plastic out and through education, they hope to bring that number down.

"We can all do a better job of getting info out for how to sort it, so what we do put at curbside is not contaminated with items that are not recyclable," Brunswick Town Manager John Eldridge said.

At the local level, cities and towns are feeling the pinch, too.

"It’s a shock to the system when it goes from break even, to $40 a ton, to $140 dollars a ton," Eldridge said.

Brunswick handles their recycling locally, but has had to increase their budget by almost $150,000 to pay for it.

"There's got to be some solution to the recycle issue because the cost is just not going to be sustainable," Eldridge said.

They contemplated just dumping the town's recycling in their landfill to save money, but that was voted down, in hopes that the market will rebound.

"No one wants to throw the stuff in the landfill, I can appreciate that, I don't want to do it either," Eldridge said.

"It's a tough market, there's no question about that, but at this point to continue recycling is really the best long-term view," Grondin said.