News Feature

Our Community
Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, July 29, 2021
Trash troubles pile up
Costs up, recycling down

by Leslie Landrigan

Island towns are grappling with a new set of problems this summer at their transfer stations: higher transportation costs, fewer recycling outlets and a lot more trash.

Town managers Jim Fisher in Deer Isle and Kathleen Billings in Stonington are keeping a close eye on the cost of trash disposal, a big-ticket item for each town. Both say they’re still within their budgets, but they don’t know how long seasonal visitors will stay on the island.

“You see how much trash there is and it’s mind-blowing,” Billings said in a phone interview.

It’s gotten to the point that the Deer Isle select board is considering charging to dispose of certain kinds of demolition debris at the transfer station.

“The selectmen have to do some deciding about what we want to do up there,” said Selectman Joe Brown at the July 22 meeting.

PERC Problems

Troubles at the Penobscot Energy Recovery Company in Orrington have trickled down to the island towns. PERC burns trash and turns it into energy. But earlier this year the company decided to do a turbine overhaul and couldn’t get key parts. So the towns had to send their trash to the Juniper Ridge landfill in Alton from June 7 to July 5, and then from July 15 to July 25.

But so did a lot of other municipalities. Both island towns saw their transportation bills more than double because of the longer drive and the driver’s time to wait in line at the landfill.

Demolition Debris

The COVID-19 pandemic brought new people to the island, and they’ve been fixing up their houses. That has added significantly to the demolition debris in Deer Isle.

“The tonnage is definitely up,” Fisher said.

Brown is proposing charging for shingle disposal up to a certain volume, then requiring people to get a dumpster past that point.

That, he said, is just a starting point. Tires may be next.

Recycling

The towns can’t recycle their way out of their trash troubles, at least now, say the town managers.

The customer for Deer Isle’s single-sort recyclables—Fiberite—has shut down. Now there’s only one place in Portland that will take single-sort recyclables, and it’s prohibitively expensive to truck it there, Fisher said.

Fisher said he might be able to send Deer Isle’s corrugated cardboard to Rockland. “It would save us some money,” he said. “But if people throw in anything else—paper, Styrofoam—they won’t accept it. Then we have to send it to PERC anyway.”

Stonington separates recyclables, but the town has had a hard time trying to get anyone to take plastic, Billings said. “It’s extremely slow even with the cardboard and mixed paper,” she said.“There’s an awful lot of it that doesn’t seem to have a home anymore.”

Billings said the solution is for people to buy products that use less packaging. She said people could help by drinking their own tap water in metal containers and getting rid of plastic milk jugs and liquid laundry detergent. “Get back to using powdered laundry detergent or pads,” she said. “That source is where we need to start. Until that happens it’s going to be hard to have any meaningful change.”