Lynn Leavitt, Sustainability Coordinator for the City of Westbrook, was our guest at speaker during our Rotary Night out on May 21, 2019.  With a curbside recycling rate of 25%, Westbrook creates about 50,000 lbs of recycling and 150,000 lbs of trash each week.  Annually, that means 2.6M lbs of recycling and 7.8M lbs of trash.   With a current tipping fee of $70.50 per ton for trash and no fee for recyclables, we have a huge incentive to recycle properly and reduce waste.
Westbrook tries to make recycling as easy as possible with single stream (no sorting), and weekly curbside pick-up.  Bins are provided by the City and repaired or replaced due to normal wear and tear. Most trash in Maine is incinerated at an Ecomaine facility that turns trash to energy, reducing the space needed by burying the resulting ash.  Still, we’d like to recover and recycle as much material as possible.
Many materials are recyclable such as paper, cardboard, plastic glass and metal. However, a growing problem is contamination in the recycling stream. When people mix trash in with their recycling, the whole load can end up as trash, costing extra. For example, if you place recyclables in a plastic bag to “keep it neat”, the whole bag will be diverted to trash. Other common contaminants that compromise a recycling load include paper towels, napkins, milk/juice cartons, candy/chip wrappers, clothing/shoes, plastic straws/utensils, receipts, plastic bags, filmy plastic and Styrofoam.
Good paper is larger than 2”x2” and not coated, laminated or heavily soiled. Envelopes with their windows are okay, cardboard coated with cheese from your pizza is not okay.  Many paper plates are coated with a plastic (laminated) so cannot be recycled.  This is true of milk cartons, juice cartons and most pet food bags which use paper/plastic laminates that cannot be separated for recycling.
Plastics should be rigid and contain a recycle symbol with numbers 1-7.  Filmy plastics like grocery bags, sandwich bags, shrink wrap, etc, cannot be recycled. When in doubt, put the item in trash. Plastic shopping bags can usually be recycled at any store that provides them for purchases.  They just cannot be put into single stream recycling as they will disrupt the operation of the separating process.
Another common contaminant is clothing. If the clothing is still in good shape, donate it to your thrift store of choice.  If in poor shape, Goodwill will take this type of item as they can be ripped for use as rags.  Otherwise, clothing and footwear belongs in the trash. Finally, we learned that we should rinse containers, but they not need to be pristine.
At the conclusion of her talk, we asked Lynn to sign a book for the Walker Library.
For a complete list of Do’s and Don’ts, visit: .  While this list is provided by the City of Westbrook, it is applicable to most communities in the Greater Portland area with single stream recycling.