2018-05-04 / Front Page

Recycling rates are on the rise

By Duke Harrington Staff Writer

KENNEBUNK — Residents dropping recyclable materials at the Kennebunk Transfer Station on Sea Road may soon have to shell out for the privilege.

If a proposal from the company that manages the site is approved, starting June 1, items now taken in free of charge will triggers fees as high as $50 per square yard.

Currently, CPRC Management of Scarborough takes “loose corrugated, mixed paper” and “loose co-mingled bottles and cans,” at no cost to the town or residents. It then trucks that material to the ecomaine waste-to-energy plant in Portland.

According to CPRC chief executive officer John Adelman, the company’s main business is converting trash and debris into raw material for construction projects, making products for road base, resurfacing, paving, and landscaping. As such, the company is not strictly in the recycling business.

“We have no interest, no experience and no knowledge of that business — how it works and where it goes. And frankly, we don’t care,” Adelman told selectmen at their April 24 meeting. “What we deal in is oversized bulky waste.”

Adelman said that when CPRC won the contract to take over management of the transfer station in 2015, it did so with the assurance — allegedly given by former Town Manager Barry Tibbetts — that it would be allowed to run its bulky waste business out of the site, once it was redesigned. Agreeing to take recyclables and ship them to ecomaine was just a means to that end, he said.

However, Adelman acknowledged that provision is not in the contract CPRC signed with the town. Still, company CEO James Hiltner claimed the vision outlined by Tibbetts was that CPRC would be a partner in the redesign of the transfer station, which would include it installing scales to weigh and accurately charge for materials it takes in, while it would get to lay out the site for maximum efficiency of its primary business line.

But with the rebuild repeatedly delayed by the town, CPRC now finds itself at a loss for how best to deal with the recyclables, particularly now that it is also operating at a loss.

The reason for that turn of events, Hiltner said, hinges on two aspects not in its control — new federal trucking rules and recent changes in “the world market” for recyclables.

“The change in the market over the past four months has much to do with the Chinese no longer accepting a material that was co-mingled, dirty and messy, at such a (favorable) rate,” Adelman said. “That market has just stopped. Other countries are picking it up, but they want much cleaner material and the ecomaine material is not that material.”

Adelman said part of the reason for that is the so-called “single-stream” recycling method used, in which all recyclable materials are lumped together.

“Things are tightening,” he said. “It’s just a difficult product to move and, quite frankly, a lot of it is being disposed of (by various other companies) as trash.”

Selectmen asked Adelman if CPRC might be able to find a market if it reverted to the old style of requiring residents to pre-sort various types of material. However, he said his company had “no interest” in doing so, in part because it all goes to ecomaine, which is single-sort.

But the problem, he said is that because ecomaine’s market has dried up, it has gone from charging nothing for taking in recyclables to demanding a fee of $95 per ton.

“That is having a significant impact on our ability to manage the transfer station profitably,” Hiltner said.

Since 2015, CPRC has processed between 275 and 325 tons of recyclables from Kennebunk residents each year.

“At $95 a ton, that becomes a $27,000 annual impact on us,” Hiltner said

Moreover, to add insult to injury, ecomaine sent its notice of the new fees dated Feb. 6, advising that the fee became effective Feb. 1.

“We had no chance at all to plan for this change,” he said.

Hiltner said his company also is affected be a recent change in trucking rules that now compels drivers to file logs online directly with the federal government. Designed to keep truckers from keeping separate logs that allow them to work past the usual limits in road time — and thus hopefully prevent so-called “tired trucker” crashes — the new rule has created a nationwide shortage of qualified drivers.

“A lot of companies have had to increase staff to get the same amount of work done,” Hiltner said, claiming that supply and demand has driven average trucker pay from $16- $18 per hour to between $21 and $23.

“And anywhere you look you see people offering sign-on bonuses,” he said.

All tolled, the increase in transportation costs and the new “tipping fee” at ecomaine, coupled with the delay in expanding the transfer station site as anticipated, has led to CPRC weathering a jump in operating costs of about $3,000 per month, Hiltner said.

To that end, it will begin charging for recycled material that, like ecomaine, it had once taken in for free. It also will increase fees for most other product it accepts.

A draft of CPRC’s new price list shows it plans to hike its price to take in bottles and cans from zero to $50 per yard, while the fee for corrugated and mixed paper will be set at $55 per yard. Those costs are borne not by the town, but by individual residents who make drop-offs.

Asked by selectmen how CPRC will prorate prices, considering that most residents drop off less than a full square yard of recyclables in any one trip, Hiltner said “we have a minimum fee.” He did not elaborate on that that minimum was, however, and it was not provided on the draft price list.

Residents can avoid much of that price hike by simply avoiding the transfer station altogether and placing their recyclables at the curb for pickup, where that service is available. Casella, which handles the town’s pay-as-you-throw solid waste program, still does not charge to take in recyclables.

“But you can bet Casella will be knocking on our door next,” Selectman Christopher Cluff said.

Fees for the other items accepted at the transfer station, which cannot be left at the curb, are also slated to climb. For example, inert material — meaning unscreened loam that contains stone, rock, ledge, concrete, brick and asphalt pavement debris — is expected to climb from $12.50 to $25 per yard.

Windows and porcelain would go up from $25 to $40 per yard, demo wood would increase from $25 to $55 per yard, and asphalt shingles from $45 to $48 per yard, while mattresses and stuffed furniture would go up $12 to $20 per item.

Other items expected to see a fee hike include stumps (from $12 to $15 per yard), propane tanks (from $7.50 to $10 per item), televisions and computer monitors (from $20 to $25 per item), tires (from $18 to $25 per item), and electronics (from $12 to $15 per item).

Selectmen have scheduled a May 8 final vote on allowing CPRC’s new price list and Adelman said he’s not afraid to break the 10- year contract his company signed with the town, if he doesn’t get a green light.

“If the answer is no, then put (the contract) back out to market,” he said.

“Do it today, please,” said Hiltner.

But one thing that will not happen today, or any time this summer even, is the planned rebuild of the transfer station.

At the 2016 town meeting, voters approved a bond package that included $2.69 million earmarked to overhaul the public works facility. That project was pitched in large part as a safety precaution needed to separate resident traffic in and out of the transfer station from the town garage and heavy equipment used by the town. Later, plans were hatched to also expand the town garage.

However, Town Manager Mike Pardue says plans for the entire property are currently on hold, pending “further evaluation and analysis” as the original design for a new public works garage has now been scrapped.

“In the vision of the design work that was done initially, my concern is that its is significantly undersized,” Pardue said. “By all accounts it would not meet our needs of today, nevermind three, four or five years from now. The monies that were voted on simply will not hold the equipment and vehicles that that currently have.”

Pardue said he had plans to bid out a rethink on the public works garage, but “sea walls and roads and other things got in the way.”

The best that can be hoped for now, he said, is a “fall start” for a project that will be budgeted over the winter and built next summer.

Meanwhile, Pardue said, he is working with RSU 21 officials to see if “efficiencies of scale” might be achieved by combining aspects of the work done by town mechanics with the school department’s transportation department.

“Whether that’s feasible or not, I think we have a responsibility to explore that before reaching a final solution,” he said.

Staff Writer Duke Harrington can be reached at news@kennebunkpost.com.

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