Maine Garbage Study Shows 60 Percent of Trash Could Be Diverted

Since municipalities pay for trash disposal, usually by the ton, researchers say big savings could result from reducing volume of trash, along with the cost of hauling it and paying tipping fees for disposal, in addition to improving the environment.
 
The 2011 study involved sorting more than 30 subcategories of trash at transfer stations around the state. The subcategories were divided into three component groups: unsalvageable waste, compostable and organic materials, and recyclables.
 
“It was approximately 40-40-20 with waste, compostable and recyclable, respectively,” says Travis Blackmer, an economics graduate student from Dedham, Maine.
 
The research, commissioned by the Maine State Planning Office as a way to educate communities about the value of reducing waste by quantifying what’s being thrown away that needn’t be, “definitely accomplished what we wanted,” he says.
 
Statewide, Maine has consistently missed a desired goal of reusing, reducing or composting 50 percent of its waste stream.  Some communities are more aggressive than others about reducing trash, but when presented with the potential cost savings, enthusiasm tends to grow, according to Blackmer and George Criner, director of the School of Economics who has researched trash in Maine for several decades. Most transfer stations have facilities for collecting glass, metal, paper and more, but much more even could be diverted.
 
“Wouldn’t we all agree that newspapers should be out of the garbage?” Criner says. “Yet many communities have noticeable amounts remaining in their curbside waste stream.”
 
Various types of recyclable or compostable paper made up about a quarter of all waste, according to the final report on the project, “2011 Maine Residential Waste Characterization Study.” Textiles, including clothing, are recyclable and comprised almost 5 percent of the waste stream that was analyzed, Blackmer adds.
 
The 2011 study has been augmented by data from several additional sources, which include the city of Brewer’s experience when it switched from traditional curbside trash collection to a single-sort recycling program in 2010 and then a “pay-as-you-throw” system.
 
“The pay-as-you-throw garbage system, coupled with the single-stream recycling option, is like a one-two waste-management punch,” Criner says. “Households respond to incentives, so when you hit them in the wallet, they want to throw out less, and since the single stream system is convenient, household participation is high. When Brewer put in its pay-as-you-throw and single-sort recycling, their waste essentially dropped to half, which is pretty typical.”
 
A single-sort system accepts multiple categories of recyclable trash in one container, which is later separated at a sorting facility.
 
Criner also says that recycling waste requires more labor than landfilling or incineration, and it creates jobs. Further recycling keeps materials from incineration or landfilling, and both have long-term environmental impacts. The economics of recycling is complex, depending on many varying factors, Criner says, but communities can save money if it is done wisely.

Download Center

  • Monitoring and Reporting on Air Emissions for Regulators and the Real World

    When it comes to managing compliance and regulatory issues surrounding air emissions, there are no easy jobs. With interviews from practitioners from American Electric Power, Red Cedar Gathering, Trinity Consultants, and Cority, this eBook provides practical advice to advance your air emissions monitoring and reporting programs.

  • What Every EHS Professional Should Know About ESG

    Join experts from Arcadis and Cority on April 27th to learn the most common ESG reporting frameworks and how technology can help you improve reporting efficiency, identify areas for improvement, and create defensible audit trails.

  • Green Quadrant EHS Software 2021

    Read the new report by independent analyst firm, Verdantix, to get an unbiased comparison of the 22 most prominent EHS software vendors in the industry.

  • RFP Template for Waste Management Software

    Learn the essential questions to ask when evaluating waste management software solutions with this free, ready-to-use RFP template

  • 5 Keys to Best-in-Class Chemical Management

    Running a safe chemical program is challenging and complex: from knowing what's on-site to proper handling and disposal - all while navigating regulatory changes. Learn the best ways to mitigate chemical risk, get the most value out of your data, and gain buy-in for a chemical management solution.

Featured Webinar