One of the least glamorous but most unavoidable issues impacting island life is that of garbage. What comes on the island in the form of food packaging, online shopping deliveries, and boat parts must somehow find its way off the island in the form of trash. Trash removal from island is expensive and complicated, requiring contracts with mainland companies and trucking garbage off the island. It’s enough to make even the most ardent environmentalist long for the days of burning garbage on the shore.
This summer, the island of Frenchboro looks to address the issue with a new comprehensive recycling effort designed to reduce both waste and cost. For years, the island has contracted with Gott’s Disposal in Southwest Harbor for garbage pick-up two to three times per week, with hauling charges and tipping fees topping $15,000 a year. Worse, the lack of a recycling program was wasteful in the eyes of many, including Beverly Wiegler. A part-time resident of the island since 2001 who had worked to promote recycling efforts in other locations, Wiegler would find herself digging redeemable containers out of the trash to take off-island with her. A few years ago, she joined with other interested islanders to form the Solid Waste Committee, of which she is now chair.
In 2009, the group began its first effort by placing containers around the island aimed at collecting those redeemable cans and bottles that visitors, and some islanders, were previously discarding with the trash. To get the collected materials off the island, the committee offered a free ferry trip to anyone willing to take a truckload with them on an off-island trip. The money made on the redeemables paid for the tickets, and put some money back into town coffers as well. “A full load could be $75 or $80 worth of redeemables,” says Wiegler. “But more important than the money was changing people’s habits. They realized that these things weren’t getting thrown away anymore.”
Next, the committee took on cardboard. A scourge of island life due to the ease and popularity of online shopping, cardboard, an easily recyclable material, took up a tremendous amount of space in island dumpsters. Town residents were encouraged to pile their cardboard together and the Solid Waste Committee extended its ferry ticket incentives to those willing to haul the cardboard to the transfer station in Ellsworth. Wiegler remembers once taking her van off-island when it was so full that she could hardly see. “It was stuffed floor to ceiling with cardboard. I just prayed I wouldn’t get pulled over.”
The simple steps of removing redeemables and cardboard, as well as the presence of a community compost area to benefit the school’s community garden, brought the 2010 solid waste costs in under $11,000, well below the $15,000 budgeted for the year. Encouraged by these efforts, the committee began exploring other options.
Island Institute Fellow Jessica Bellah’s arrival on the island coincided with the forming of the Solid Waste Committee, and with her help they began to research ways to expand the program to other recyclable materials. As part of the Acadia Disposal District, Frenchboro had access to options through Eastern Maine Recycling (EMR). Bellah reported her findings at the town meeting, and this past May, the first recycling dumpsters were brought on the island. One dumpster can take plastics numbered one through seven, the other can take all varieties of cans. A paper recycling bin resides in the post office, where it captures a significant amount of junk mail. Because EMR can sell the materials for a profit, they charge Frenchboro only for transportation costs, a significant savings. The goal is to reduce the regular garbage run to one per month. At this point, Frenchboro is unable to recycle glass.
Future plans include adding glass to the recycling menu, building a storage container to make the cardboard recycling easier, and increasing island participation. Wiegler doesn’t expect perfect adherence—”Generally, an 80 percent recycling rate is considered excellent”—but she thinks that cooperation will improve. “I think the savings will convince people to do it. Not everyone has a high environmental conscience, but the money is how we will get people.” The town approved funds in the 2011 budget to hire a part-time coordinator for the effort, which should also help promote visibility on the island and ensure that the efforts run smoothly. Between the funds captured from redeemables and the savings seen through EMR, there should be enough to fund the coordinator position and still save the town money.
Wiegler believes that the mindset on the island regarding waste is changing for the better. “If Frenchboro can do it with a small population and limited transportation, anyone can do it. It’s working pretty well so far, and I think it will continue. I’m hoping that next year, this is a nonstory.”
Cherie Galyean is a freelance writer living in Bar Harbor.