North Haven’s transfer station sits atop a hill overlooking a stand of trees. The facility is laid out over a loop of dirt road, on which stands a glossy green compactor. It collects the contents of blue bins brought to the facility by islanders participating in their new single-stream recycling system.
Until this July, islanders wishing to recycle sorted their goods into containers or bags and meandered through the facility, dropping cardboard into one container, sorting returnables into another and puzzling over which plastics could be recycled.
“Single-stream simplifies the system and takes a lot more products out of the household trash and municipal solid waste and puts it into recycling,” said Doug Record, chairman of North Haven’s solid waste committee. Record, with the committee and the transfer station employees, began exploring the possibility of switching to single-stream recycling in 2008.
With a contract up for renewal, and transfer station employees overwhelmed, solid waste committee member Joel Rowland said “the timing was right.”
“It was greeted with healthy skepticism at first as to whether or not it was actually worth it,” Rowland said. “Once people realized how much simpler it made things and the possibility of being able to do away with some tedious labor and organization too, within two meetings of talking about it, we were like, we can move forward with this,” he said.
Ecomaine came on board in 2009, visiting North Haven’s transfer station to determine the feasibility of single-stream recycling. The collectively-owned and operated nonprofit, located in southern Maine, collects and sells recyclable materials and burns municipal solid waste to generate electricity. Record said Ecomaine met the town’s goals of simplifying waste disposal and reducing overall waste.
“Once we started talking about single-stream and inquiring, we found Ecomaine and the town switched providers. That was a major and important piece of the pie, that instead of going into a landfill, it was being used to make power,” he said.
North Haven is a contract member of Ecomaine and doesn’t participate in the revenue-sharing aspect of their waste disposal model. Instead, the town asks residents to separate returnable bottles from the rest of their waste and collects revenue from their redemption, according to town manager Joe Stone. Ecomaine is not involved in the bottle redemption process.
A town meeting was held in March to approve appropriation of funds to cover the capital expenses of switching to single-stream. “The recommended budget for the project was presented at the town meeting and was unanimously approved,” said William Trevaskis, chairman of the board of selectmen. The appropriated funds covered the cost of clearing a space for the new compactor and pouring the concrete pad, according to Rowland and Record.
The new compactor arrived in July and the transition was made. Large blue plastic bins were distributed to homes and businesses across North Haven with refrigerator magnets listing items now able to be recycled.
“I see it as a positive thing, and I know at our house the plastic containers salads come in, all that stuff is going in the recycling instead of the trash,” Record said.
Transfer station manager Peter Cooper, who worked closely with the solid waste committee to make the transition, said he has seen an increase in the number of people recycling and is pleased to see some formerly reluctant recyclers jumping on board.
“Other than people throwing their trash in with the recyclables—which is a no-no—it’s been very good,” he said. Although the new system hasn’t been in place long enough to determine the actual difference in tonnage of recycled materials, all the anecdotal evidence points to an increase.
Callie Davisson, executive assistant and graphic designer for the North Haven Historical Society, said her family “certainly goes through a lot less trash.”
“Before, we really weren’t very good about separating our recycling out at all, and now we definitely pay attention to what goes in the box,” she said, adding that she has become a better composter as well. “We notice how much less trash we’re going through now, and we want to make it less and less.”
Rowland said the transition was “a net positive for everybody.”
“It isn’t necessarily something we were going to make money from and we were going to have to put money into the infrastructure,” he said, “but we were hopeful enough that we would see less trash generated and more people taking advantage of a recycling system that people from all walks of life were willing to support.”
Courtney Naliboff is a freelance contributor living on North Haven.