2012-03-30 / Community

South Portland mulls recycling education

By Kristy Wagner Staff Writer

Redbank Village was the focus of a discussion by South Portland’s Energy and Recycling Committee last week, when ideas for improving the recycling habits of residents in all of the city’s neighborhoods were considered.

“(Redbank) seemed interested in wanting tenants to buy into the program,” said Tim Gato, interim director of public works. “It’s a little different flavor when dealing with an area that’s all rental properties.” Gato explained to the recycling committee how the amended ordinance allows for a fine of up to $500 each time residents do not comply with the ordinance. The biggest issue is tenants in rented residencies mixing non-recyclable material in with recyclable material, Gato said. The city has found Redbank Village responsible for many instances of noncompliance in the past year. The reason may be that the property owner, not the tenant, pays the fee.

“I know how difficult it is for them as property management,” Gato said. “They’re the ones, ultimately, who are on the hook for the crime.” South Portland participates in a single-sort recycling program through ecomaine, a nonprofit waste management company in Portland. Pine Tree Waste is contracted by the city for curbside pickup of garbage and recycling.

Gato said ecomaine has found everything from grass clippings to VCRs in recycling loads that go to the sorting facility every Friday. If ecomaine rejects the recycling due to too much contamination, then the city must dispose of it with the rest of the garbage. Disposal of non-recyclable material found in South Portland recycling bins cost the city more than $40,000 last year, Gato said.

The fine is part of an amendment that went into effect Monday after approval by the city council March 5. In addition to the fine, the amended ordinance also stipulates that owners of multi-family dwellings must distribute written materials to residents that outline the city’s recycling program.

Amending the ordinance became the topic of city council workshop and meeting discussions in February, when it was noted that noncompliance with single-sort recycling rules cost the city so much money last year.

“One of the scenarios involved is that Redbank is a more transient area than other places,” Gato said.

Commitee members proposed ideas for keeping Redbank residents informed by including a recycling survey, implementing hands-on recycling demonstrations in the schools and printing information about the city’s single-sort recycling program in languages other than just English.

“Are you providing information in the languages that are now in Redbank?” committee member Joan Kushner asked Gato. “There are a whole variety of languages now.”

Kushner also noted that many residents might need more incentive to recycle properly.

“If it’s costing $40,000 per year we could inform people that that’s money taken away from the school system,” committee member Angela Griffiths said. “That’s a teacher or a couple of ed techs.”

Gato said he thought reaching out to schools would be one viable option in spreading the word about how the city recycles.

“Kids are awesome. They’re as aggressive recyclers as anyone else,” he said.

Director of Public Works Doug Howard said he was involved with recycling demonstrations at elementary schools in the past when he was on the original recycling committee.

“We went to all the elementary schools with trash and dumped it all out to show (recyclable and non-recyclable refuse),” Howard said. “Younger kids go home and tell parents. It can go a long way to spark (children’s) interest.”

Margaret O’Connell, property manager of Redbank Village Apartments, could not be reached for comment on the neighborhood’s recycling habits and efforts to inform her tenants on the city’s single-sort program.

Management does provide a brief statement on the neighborhood homepage that informs tenants of South Portland’s participation in ecomaine’s recycling program. In addition to “encouraging participation” from tenants, Redbank’s website provides a link to ecomaine’s website and a phone number to call for more information.

Committee members agreed that taking an enthusiastic and thorough approach to educating the entire community, not just the neighborhood of Redbank, is the best course of action to take in addition to the ordinance amendment.

“(Energy and recycling committee members) have the ability to find ways to take us to next level,” Gato said.

Staff Writer Kristy Wagner can be reached at 282-4337, ext. 219.

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