The importance of using recycling and composting to reduce waste that goes into landfills cannot be overemphasized. Disposal of municipal solid waste is a growing challenge in Maine due to declining landfill space, high disposal costs, and environmental health risks.
At our local transfer stations we deal with recyclables by throwing them into specifically designated dumpsters or bins. These are then taken to Lincoln County Recycling or other places to be further sorted and sold. Other communities in Maine deal with their municipal waste in different ways. In order to increase recycling and decrease costs some towns use a Pay-as-You-Throw model, whereas others use Single-Stream, or Zero-Sort, models. Some municipalities even run their own composting operations. A group of municipalities, mostly in southern Maine, have a unique solution for taking care of their non-hazardous waste—ecomaine.
ecomaine is a non-profit waste disposal and recycling organization that includes 40 municipalities, 21 of which are owner-communities with the remainder contracting for services. It serves approximately 25% of the state’s population. ecomaine has three facilities located in Portland: a recycling facility, a waste-to-energy plant, and a 250-acre landfill/ashfill. Their recycling center is a single-stream system. This means residents sort their trash into two containers, one for recyclables [paper products, plastic (#1-7, but not #6 polystyrene aka Styrofoam), metal, glass)], and one for waste.
The recycling center takes in over 35,000 tons of recyclable material annually. It uses state-of-the-art technology, including star screen separators and an optical sorter to sort the material and prepare it for sale. Although this tonnage could be valuable as fuel for their waste-to-energy plant, the municipalities and management of ecomaine have committed to making recycling their first priority. To help spread the word about recycling and continue to increase recycling tonnage, they do extensive outreach and education work as well as give tours of the facility. The steering committee for Pemaquid Watershed Association’s Keep Pemaquid Peninsula Beautiful initiative was given a tour earlier this summer and was impressed by the facilities as well as the knowledge and dedication of the employees.
The waste-to-energy (WTE) plant processes about 175,000 tons of the non-recyclable trash each year. It produces steam-generated electricity, using 15% for operations and selling the rest, which they estimate is enough to power up to 15,000 Maine homes. They have advanced pollution control systems and do active monitoring of their emissions and adjacent waters. An additional benefit of the WTE plant is the fact that it reduces the volume of trash by 90%, leaving only non-hazardous, chemically stable ash to be stored. The ash is stored in an ecologically protective ash cell constructed in 2006. It consists of 240 contiguous acres and includes natural and constructed wetlands that support a variety of wildlife.
With its three facilities, ecomaine provides an interesting and environmentally sensitive solution to waste disposal needs for its member communities. See ecomaine.org for more information.
PWA’s “Keep Pemaquid Peninsula Beautiful” initiative will bolster PWA’s work to preserve and enhance the natural beauty of the Pemaquid Peninsula by promoting a clean, litter-free environment. For more
By Louise Riley, Member of the Keep Pemaquid Peninsula Beautiful Steering Committee