THOMASTON — “It’s exceptional, some of the cleanest material that we’ve received down at ecomaine,” said Lissa Bitterman, business development manager of ecomaine, the landfill and trash processing facility in South Portland and Scarborough.
Three-Town Solid Waste Cooperative began contracting with ecomaine on April 1, 2018, and iIn less than a year, the cooperative, consisting of Thomaston, South Thomaston, and Owls Head, has developed a reputation for operating a quality single-service recycling program.
Ecomaine, originally named Regional Waste Systems, was founded in 1976 by Cape Elizabeth, Portland, Scarborough and South Portland in response to a new Maine law that called for the closing of privately owned landfills. Two years later the group purchased 240 acres (primarily located in South Portland and Scarborough) for a jointly owned landfill and bought a baler to satisfy their processing needs. By 1985, the regional organization had grown to 21 municipalities. Now, the three towns of Thomaston, South Thomaston and Owls Head send their trash to ecomaine, as does Camden, Hope, Lincolnville and Rockport, Vinalhaven, North Haven, Washington, Union, and Liberty.
On Thursday, Jan. 17, employees of the Three-Town Solid Waste Cooperative stepped away from assisting residents with the unloading of recyclables, in 12-degree temperatures, to be recognized for the service they provide, and the money they are helping to save.
Bruce Colson, chairman of the cooperative board, introduced employees John Jacques, Program Manager Reggie Vokes, and newcomer David MacNeill to the group of town select board members, as well as ecomaine representative, who came to celebrate the community’s work.
Walter Reitz, chairman of the South Thomaston select board, said: “In addition to the recycling efforts, I want to thank you. When you serve the public, you are never going to have a 100 percent customer satisfaction. But the level of positive feedback that we’re getting because of how helpful, effective and polite you guys are – but occasionally you need to have your thick skins on – just know, we have your back all of the time. You have a high level of increased customers per satisfaction; far and beyond anything that’s happened in this facility as long as I’ve been in town. So, thank you for that.”
Five percent or under of contamination in a load is what the global market generally will tolerate, according to Bitterman.
Aside from the 3,400 tons of waste that the cooperative sends out of the region annually, 106 tons of recycling went to ecomaine between April 1, 2018, and Jan. 16, 2019. That is divided into an average of three containers per month, four to 5.5 tons per container.
Ecomaine processes 10 to 18 tons of recycling per hour, from municipalities statewide. And though Eco workers don’t have time to open plastic bags in order verify whether the contents are recyclable, or to catch what obviously isn’t, workers do know where each load originates.
“These guys are coming in pretty much between zero and one percent [contamination],” Bitterman said, about the cooperative. “The one percent is only if we find three plastic bags in the load, technically it’s not zero percent.”
The items of a typical single-stream load that are allowed: corrugated cardboard, mixed paper, glass, metal, and the plastic containers 1 through 7. Anything outside of that is considered contamination.
“It may be recyclable, but it’s home is not in a single-stream program,” said Bitterman.
Bitterman says ecomaine gets many random bits of metal and basketballs, textiles, bedding, clothing, shoes, boots, food, pumpkins, christmas tree lights.
“Literally, you name it, we have seen it,” she said.
Not from the Buttermilk Drive location, though.
Cooperative contaminates were recorded as a small wood box, a canvas bag, two pieces of bubble wrap, two styrofoam trays, and a light bulb. That list accompanies less than 50 plastic bags at a time, and various amounts of filled bags that are pulled by ecomaine and deemed garbage.
Loads sent to ecomaine on May 28, June 21, July 2, and July 13 held no contaminants at all. Other loads had varying amounts of empty and full plastic bags, yet never more than 50 per load.
According to Colson, with any load containing more than five percent contaminates, the cost increases “quite a lot.”
“These guys have done a tremendous job keeping the cost down to the taxpayers in the three towns,” Colson said. “You wouldn’t believe the thousands of dollars they’ve probably saved them already.”
Along with assisting residents with dispensing recyclables and providing signs with lists, the Cooperative also conducted a small campaign where they dug obvious unwanted items from the bins and hung them for the residents to see.
Also recognized during the ceremony was Thomaston Recycling, Inc, owned by Scott Johnson and Thomaston Select Board member Beverly St. Clair.
“That company goes far above and beyond the contract,” said Colson. “They are a tremendous asset to the towns and this facility. They put in countless hours doing research for us at times, with very valuable information. They’ve donated equipment here to help lower the cost of maintenance to the buildings and the grounds.
“Frozen loads are a big problem. Thawing the cans cost money. Thomaston Recycling is right there.” (In fact, that’s why Scott Johnson missed the ceremony. He was three hours at work thawing a can for the Cooperative.)
For more information, check out the following websites:
(ecomaine has a new app that can be downloaded for free)
Reach Sarah Thompson at firstname.lastname@example.org