Everyone has heard the mantra called out by environmentalists everywhere – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle! Since the first grade, many of us have recited the three R’s when it comes to dealing with our trash, but did you know that those three words are part of a much larger picture?
Here’s a little background information:
The State of Maine established a law in 1989 called the Solid Waste Management and Recycling Act, to guide state and local decisions about how we deal with our household and commercial waste. This law created a hierarchy of how materials should be disposed of, and set goals to recycle more materials to save them from a lifetime in the landfill, and aligned with a similar model set by the Environmental Protection Agency. You can find more information about the State of Maine’s Waste Management and Recycling Plan here.
Before recycling, composting, and Waste-to-Energy was possible, all of our waste took up space in landfills. Hundreds of thousands of tons were stored in the ground, and much of that waste is still there, completely undisturbed. Once landfills are filled and “capped” to contain the mess, the trash inside is largely preserved without any air to help break it down. Deep within these trash mountains, highly flammable methane gases are produced from bacteria in the trash and can be released into the air – and methane traps up to 72 times more heat in the atmosphere than CO2 over a 20 year period. Methane is emitted through the process of making fossil fuels, farming and livestock, biomass burning, and what we throw away in landfills.
27.78% food waste
1.48% yard waste
1.14% wood (treated and untreated)
If you’re counting, that amounts to more than 76% of our total waste!
The Waste Hierarchy has become a policy to send less materials to the landfill, but how can we practice this in our daily routines? Over the next six months, we will unpack each tier of the hierarchy and discuss how each of us can make an impact when we Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle our waste.
ecomaine is fortunate to have a community of passionate supporters who encourage those in their hometowns to frame their waste-reduction and diversion awareness around the Waste Hierarchy. The “Three R’s” –reduce, reuse, recycle—are a well-established standard in green thinking. However, some folks are still new to the concept of including additional practices in the hierarchy; Compost/Anaerobic Digestion and Waste-to-Energy are all ways we can improve our sustainability, keep things out of the landfill and shrink our footprint.
Harnessing these rungs of our “diversion ladder” and using them to frame the way we approach waste management at all levels allows materials that would otherwise be going into our landfills or polluting our oceans to be “pushed up the ladder” and become a part of the circular economy, supporting green living and a sustainable future.
How do we ensure that the Waste Hierarchy is put to broad and continuous use? It is well established that long term environmental balance and a sustainable future can only be achieved through strategic public policy changes. The process of implementing these new or improved local, state and federal policies is galvanized and hurried along most effectively through continuous community buy-in.
That being said; supporting the Waste Hierarchy at the local level through advocacy groups, getting involved in volunteer efforts, joining or founding environmental action committees in your community or school district, speaking at your local town or city council meeting, joining clubs at your university and connecting with the public at sustainability-centric events are all small ways you can have a big impact. Continuous, comprehensive, and extensive individual and community support is the most important thing you can be a part of when it comes to making long term changes stick. Get Involved!
Written by Gabe Gauvin, ecomaine Communications & Outreach Intern
From packing peanuts and cardboard boxes to food containers and scrap gift wrap, shopping around the holidays can create a lot of waste! According to the National Environmental Education Foundation, the United States generates one million extra tons of garbage per week between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day.
Here at ecomaine, we believe in following the waste hierarchy whenever possible to deal with waste – If you’re thinking about ways to save the planet while also saving money this season, here are some suggestions for ways to give a second life to materials that would normally get thrown out on the curb around the holidays…
Making your own gifts is not only a great way to personalize your gifts, but it can also save energy and reduce your carbon footprint. If you’re looking for some inspiration to get started, check your kitchen cabinets – great gifts can be made from pantry staples like sugar, essential oils, ground coffee, and honey. Try making a sugar body scrub by mixing a combination of coconut oil, granulated sugar, and lavender essential oils, or experiment with your own recipes.
For the baker or chef in your life, give them the gift of less plastic in the kitchen by making a low-maintenance beeswax wrap out of your old scrap fabrics. A combination of beeswax and pine rosin wax creates heat-activated cling to cover bowls and casserole dishes, or to wrap up your half-eaten sandwich. These wraps are washable with mild soap and water, and as an added bonus, they are biodegradable!
Instead of buying store-bought gift wrap for your loved ones this year, consider using common household items like old paper shopping bags, toilet paper tubes, and leftover builder’s paper, which is made from recycled paper and costs much less than traditional wrapping paper. You can personalize each gift by decorating the outside with dried flowers or your own fun designs.
Want to wrap your gift in a gift? Packing those goodies into a mason jar, reusable tote bag, or a fabric gift wrap that can be re-gifted next year!
Already purchased and wrapped all your gifts for this year? No problem! Keep the leftover cardboard boxes, polystyrene foam, and tissue paper for other year-round projects and kids’ crafts like tea light lanterns made with minced garlic jars and used tissue paper, or foam stencils and stamps. Make sure to save your unused gift wrap for next season, and reuse and recycle whenever possible.
Taking small steps to cut down on your holiday waste can significantly reduce your carbon footprint, save you some extra cash, and save those items from a lifetime in the landfill. Want more suggestions for more environmentally-friendly holidays? Check out our holiday video tips, follow us on social media, and send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
This is about the economic impact of the recycling industry in Maine. That’s also really important, particularly as the debate ramps up about whether one bad year of recycling markets is enough to put the brakes on these programs that have taken years – DECADES – to cultivate and grow.
At ecomaine, we recycle because we subscribe to the waste hierarchy, and reducing, reusing, and recycling are the top three options when it comes to the stuff we don’t use any more. But beyond that, it’s a significant piece of the economic puzzle in Maine, too.
As a state, Mainers have recycled more than a million tons a year. Not bad, right?
All that material makes for 2,000+ jobs in Maine, too. Even better!
Those jobs pay an average of almost $50,000 in salaries and benefits – better than the state average.
And with $34.5 million in taxes and a total of more than $350 million in total economic impact…? Recycling in Maine is a big deal.
Nationally, the picture is the same – more than 90 million tons recycled, leading to more than half a million jobs that pay well, and make a BIG impact on the national economy.
You might say that Recycling Makes Cents. But we’re not going to say that – we’re too busy sorting out all those tons of recyclables to make bad puns!
When was the last time you felt good about putting something in the trash can? Maybe you even felt guilty for having to throw something away? Did you put it in the recycling bin, hoping it would be recycled against all hope that it was actually a recyclable material?
The great news is that for 72 towns and communities in Maine and two in New Hampshire, a non-profit waste management company called ecomaine takes your trash and converts it to electricity, while reducing it in size and volume. So you don’t have to wish-cycle in order to keep items out of the ever-growing landfills.
If it’s not something you can reduce your use of, reuse in any way, recycle correctly, or compost as organic material, the only option is to put it in the trash can. Maine is lucky to have not one but three waste-to-energy facilities in the state. This means that much of Maine’s trash essentially goes to renewable energy in the form of making electricity, just by burning your trash. Pollution IS created in the burning process but it is then mitigated by our rigorous pollution control systems and testing process. Our emissions (which are 96% water vapor) are monitored and regulated by the Department of Environmental Protection and the Environmental Protection Agency!
The combusted trash turns to ash and leftover metals after a four-hour burning process. Ferrous metals are taken out by a giant magnet that removes about 24,000 pounds of metal per 24-hour period. The leftover ash – about 10-12 full dump-trucks per 24 hour period – is taken to the ecomaine-owned landfill just three miles down the road from our waste-to-energy facility, which is near the Portland airport. Remember that this ash is now 90% less what it was when I came to ecomaine from your curbside or transfer station!
Ash is then dropped off in the landfill and flattened with a bulldozer! Vroom! From here, the ash is inert and does NOT emit methane or other harmful gasses, it doesn’t runoff and pollute waterways and since it is only 10% of its original size and volume, it takes up FAR less space than it would otherwise!
So don’t feel guilty putting that trash item in your waste bin. Remember to follow the waste hierarchy, but not everything can be reduced, reused, recycled or composted. That’s when ecomaine’s waste-to-energy building is waiting for your trash items to safely reduce them and make electricity for upto 15,000 homes per year at the same time.
We at ecomaine urge you to find out where your trash and recycling goes and that’s why we offer tours Monday-Friday, as well as having extensive information of what we do and how we do it on our website: ecomaine.org. Contact Katrina Venhuizen at email@example.com to schedule a tour for students 2nd grade to adult today!
September is a special kind of fun around ecomaine. With all the back-to-school rush comes a great opportunity for us to do some of our own education. Check it out…
Early in the month, there’s Portland Greenfest, which is now in the rearview mirror. Info, food, music, and hundreds of sustainability-minded neighbors getting together to celebrate all things green. We had a great time in Monument Square, talking about ecomaine, recycling, and waste-to-energy with lots of interested people. We’re already looking forward to next year – see you there!
Next up is the Common Ground Country Fair, from September 21-23 in Unity. Come see us and 60,000 of our closest friends to celebrate rural and agricultural living in Maine – including sustainable waste management! ecomaine is proud to provide the single-sort recycling container for the Fair, and to present to fair-goers on recycling and composting. Get there early to park close!
And of course, there’s ecomaine’s 2018 Open House! That’s on Saturday, September 29 from 8:00 – 11:00 a.m. at our Recycling Plant. We’re currently deep in the planning and prep for this one, which will bring you THE BEST BREAKFAST SANDWICHES IN SOUTHERN MAINE (trademark?), tours of our facilities, kid’s activities, free recycling bins, free electronic waste collection, truck demos, plus info from our partner organizations in sustainability and appearances from Portland’s lineup of mascots: Slugger the Sea Dog, Crusher from the Red Claws, and Beacon the Puffin from the new Maine Mariners!
Yesterday, you finished off the milk at breakfast, printed a few too many copies of your document at work, and emptied the ice cream carton for dessert. You put all these containers and paper, along with your glass, metal, cardboard, and rigid plastic containers in the recycling bin and out at the curb this morning.
Have you ever thought about what happens to all your recycling after it gets picked up by the truck? Lucky for you, you can come see for yourself because ecomaine, the company that processes single-sort recycling and trash for one third of Maine, offers tours, presentations and outreach events opportunities for you!
Here to tell you all about these offerings are the Outreach and Education staff of ecomaine, including the expert educator, the wise intern, and our brand new educator!
Katrina, the seasoned Environmental Educator: Meeting new people every day within our member communities is definitely one of my favorite parts of the job. Presentations to schools and businesses allow me to do just this on both a large and small scale. In-class programs, full-school assemblies, STEM expos, career fairs, lunch and learns and so much more allow ecomaine to come to your school or organization to teach students and staff about where their recycling and trash ends up and what happens to in along the way to make something new and productive. The presentations we offer can be for a group as small as two people or we could speak to a full auditorium, gym, cafeteria, etc. So think of us at ecomaine the next time you want to educate your students or colleagues on where their trash and recycling goes, and what happens to it once it leaves your sight!
Gabe, the wise Intern: Spending a day outside in the fresh air is always fantastic, but it’s even better when I get to do it while teaching people all theDo’s and Don’ts of recycling. Hanging out at transfer stations, town halls, street fairs, and local festivals lets us create a direct connection with our community members! It’s always awesome to see how excited and passionate people can be about commiting to the waste hierarchy and protecting their environment. Personally, I find it empowering to know that I’m doing meaningful work, and nothing emphasizes that feeling more than being able to see the lightbulb turn on in someone’s head and realizing that they can truly make a big difference with a remarkably small amount of effort in recycling.
Vanessa, our brand new Educator: Since my first day at ecomaine, I have learned so much about recycling and waste-to-energy through taking tours! Seeing is believing, here at ecomaine, and I was amazed to see just how much recycling is sorted each day. So far, the rubber stars are my favorite things to watch in action, as they spin and sort our cardboard and paper.
It can be really challenging to understand how Single-Sort Recycling works, and why some places can take materials that others cannot. Tours are a great way to learn about why we collect certain materials, and what technology is used to send them to the right place. You can watch everyday household items travel from the tipping hall to the baler in under four minutes!
Many communities in the state of Maine also bring their trash to our facility, where it is used to generate enough electricity to power both of our facilities, our electric car, and the rest goes back into the grid to power 15,000 homes! And our Waste-to-Energy Facility treats particles and gases so that we can keep our air clean. Our mission is to protect the environment, and by reducing the amount of trash going to landfills, and reducing our pollutants, we can keep Maine’s environment the way it should be.
If you’ve ever wanted to know how we generate electricity from your garbage, or if you’re curious about how recycling goes from our silver bullets to sorted bales, put on a hard hat and come schedule a tour with us. We’re available five days a week, and we love company! We will also come to any of our 70+ member communities to staff a booth, talk with councils or select boards, schools, or public works staff! Call 207-773-1738 or email firstname.lastname@example.org!
So what’s the deal with plastic bags? Or bubble wrap, or those “air pillows” we sometimes get in a delivery box? Those have the recycling symbol on them, so they must be recyclable, right?
Plastic films like these are tough ones – they can’t be recycled in a single-sort recycling plant like ecomaine’s (or most others across the country, in fact). This is for a handful of different reasons.
First and foremost, we at ecomaine closely follow what’s called the Waste Hierarchy. This means we really prefer to REDUCE and REUSE before we even get to RECYCLE. Reusable shopping bags are much more preferable to single-use plastic bags in the first place. (And if you have those plastic bags, we definitely encourage reusing them as small trash liners or something like that.) In fact, many ecomaine member communities have successfully put in place plastic bag bans or fees, in order to discourage single-use bags.
Next, there really isn’t much of a market for these kinds of films, making it really tough to send them out to be recycled, even if we could take them. (Supply and demand are a big part of recycling!) But when bags do get into our facility, they make a big mess of our sorting operations. We have to stop operations for as much as 90 minutes sometimes to clean all of it out. Check out our video that demonstrates the dangers of plastic bags and other “tanglers.”
BUT… (There’s always an exception, isn’t there?)
The one, single, sole, ONLY exception to the plastic films rule is for shredded paper. The way to recycle shredded paper is to put it all in a clear plastic bag. That way, it contains the shredded paper (so it doesn’t turn into confetti on its ride to ecomaine in the recycling truck), and our workers can immediately see what it is, open the bag, and get the paper onto the right conveyor belt. (As always, you can take a tour and see this all for yourself!)
BUT… (Wow, wait – another one?!?)
Didn’t ecomaine used to take plastic bags? Yes – that’s true, we did! A few years ago, ecomaine did allow residents to include #2 or #4 shopping bags with their recycling – limited ONLY to empty shopping bags that were not full of other recyclables. But that policy had to change for those reasons above. For the past few years, plastic bags we get in the recycling stream are treated as contamination (trash) – and that means more time and money spent by ecomaine and the member communities that make up our organization to sort it all out and clean it all up.
There are lots of resources at ecomaine to tell which bin to put it in. The easiest is the Recyclopedia – our mobile app and online database with almost 800 items to look up, and see where that item should go. And we have posters, cards, flyers, and more – to put on your refrigerator, to share, and to have a quick look when you’re not quite sure.Want to read even more? Check out this article from the CBC about why certain items with the recycling symbol aren’t always as recyclable as we think. And head over to Plastic Film Recycling for places like grocery stores or department stores where you can take your bags and films to be recycled into plastic lumber (neat!).
Thanks from ecomaine for thinking about which bin to put it in and recycling right!
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE June 14, 2018 MEDIA CONTACT Matt Grondin 207-523-3108 ecomaine Welcomes International Waste Management Leader to 2018 Annual Meeting in Portland
CEO of Solid Waste Association of North America, David Biderman addressed ecomaine communities and stakeholders, as recycling markets face uncertain future
PORTLAND, Maine – ecomaine welcomed David Biderman, CEO of the Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA) to its annual meeting on Thursday, June 14, 2018
at Thompson’s Point Brick South in Portland from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Biderman addressed the future of sustainable waste management in the face of unprecedented turmoil in the markets for recyclable materials. Biderman also presented to Freeport High School senior Taylor Dostie the Steve Parker Memorial Scholarship on behalf of the SWANA Chapter of Northern New England.
ecomaine CEO Kevin Roche addressed attendees on the state of ecomaine’s recycling, waste-to-energy, landfill, administrative, and educational outreach programs during Fiscal Year 2018, and will look ahead to Fiscal Year 2019 and beyond. Additionally, outgoing Board Chair Troy Moon recognized ecomaine’s 2018 eco-Excellence Award winners.
“The collapse in recycling markets has challenged ecomaine this year,” said Kevin Roche, ecomaine’s CEO. “Even with these poor market conditions, ecomaine has been able to make the necessary adjustments to keep the flow of recycled paper moving to new markets.”
“On the positive side,” he continued, “we’ve seen our community and educational outreach double. We remain committed to the waste hierarchy in the face of uncertain markets. And our ties to our 74 communities across Maine are incredibly strong – regional solid waste management presents better opportunities in 2018 than ever before.”
“Moreover, we are very happy to have David Biderman here in Portland to describe what he is seeing in waste management nationwide, and here locally in Maine” said Roche.
“I am very glad to be at ecomaine, which continues to be a real leader in promoting sustainable waste management strategies,” said David Biderman. “Our industry faces a variety of challenges, including China’s imposition of restrictions affecting U.S. recycling programs. Public outreach and awareness are real keys to working with communities to solve these challenges, and together, ecomaine and SWANA are well-positioned to take on the changing future of waste management.”
The first half of 2018 has seen markets for recyclable material fluctuate rapidly and uncertainly, as China has begun and continued enforcement of rigorous contamination standards, and banned much imported post-consumer material entirely – particularly mixed paper. ecomaine continues to find markets for its mixed paper in Indonesia, Vietnam, and India, for example, but prices have dropped sharply from 2017 levels. Despite this, ecomaine continues to adhere to its mission and the waste hierarchy – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Compost, Waste-to-Energy, and Landfill as a last resort. Roche and Biderman will address these market forces, and the outlook for 2018-19.
ecomaine, located in Portland, Maine, is the member-owned, nonprofit, recycling and waste-to-energy operation that serves a third of the state’s population in 74 member communities. ecomaine provides comprehensive long-term solid waste solutions in a safe, environmentally responsible, economically sound manner, and is a leader in raising public awareness of sustainable waste management strategies.
About the Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA)
The Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA) is an organization of more than 10,000 public and private sector professionals committed to advancing from solid waste management to resource management through their shared emphasis on education, advocacy and research. For more than 50 years, SWANA has been the leading association in the solid waste management field. SWANA serves industry professionals through technical conferences, certifications, publications and a large offering of technical training courses.
Allagash Brewing, Ruth’s Reusable Resources and Massabesic’s David Pope receive top 2018 ecomaine eco-Excellence Awards
A total of 18 Individuals, Nonprofit Organizations and Businesses received awards for their commitment to sustainability and community throughout 2017
PORTLAND, MAINE – (March 9, 2018) Allagash Brewing Company, Ruth’s Reusable Resources and Massabesic Middle School’s David Pope received top honors in the Business Leadership, Community Leaders, and Individual categories, respectively, at the 2018 ecomaine eco-Excellence Awards ceremony here March 6. The top winners were selected among 18 award recipients in total, from 11 ecomaine member communities.
“Behind every recycling statistic is a person who makes a difference,” said Kevin Roche, chief executive officer of ecomaine, during a special awards luncheon in ecomaine’s community room here March 6. “Through the ecomaine eco-Excellence Awards, we celebrate each of our winners for leading their communities, businesses and their families to make more sustainable choices about both consumption and waste generation.”
Allagash Brewing Company – Portland
Allagash Brewing Company, the top winner in the Business Leadership Category, as of 2015, managed to divert 99.75% of all waste from landfills. Through the use of solar panels (installed in July 2016); light zoning and conversion to LED lighting; and “free air,” which used naturally cold Maine winter air to reduce electrical usage by more than 104 megawatt hours.
Allagash employees challenge themselves to think of waste as resources. Beyond their energy and resource efficiency practices, they pass along the spent grain from beer making to Justice Farms for cow feed. They also maximize employee composting involving spent fruit from beers and to manage composting bins at events.
“The Business Leadership category recognizes businesses that don’t operate under a mission focused on environmental sustainability or conversation, but who make it their job to integrate it into everything they do,” said Caleb Hemphill, chair of ecomaine’s Outreach & Recycling Committee. “Allagash Brewing Company is the ultimate illustration of integrity at work in business for broader community impact.”
Ruth’s Reusable Resources – Portland
Ruth’s Reusable Resources (3R’s) is a non-profit organization that receives surplus supplies from businesses, and transfers them into the hands of students and classrooms through teachers in our free teacher store. Ruth’s has been diverting materials from the waste stream for 24 years. What started as simply a way to get usable supplies from businesses into schools has grown to include reusing and repurposing items to every extent possible and recycling much of what cannot be reused or repurposed right here at ecomaine. Everyday businesses throw away perfectly good, usable office supplies, furniture and other materials and Ruth’s makes it possible for these things to be put to use by students and teachers who need them.
Ruth’s has diverted millions of pounds of plastic and other materials from landfills, eliminated over 472,400 pounds or 236 tons of paper, and over 160 tons of cardboard, saving trees, oil, billions of BTUs of energy, landfill space and energy. This work has helped increase the state and local communities’ awareness of the importance of recycling, reusing and re-purposing simply by doing what it does, and it is this non-profit’s conscious effort to continue to educate communities throughout Maine about the importance of sustaining the environment for many years to come.
“For your incredible dedication, commitment and creativity that has diverted countless valuable resources out of landfills and into the hands of teachers and the budding minds of tomorrow’s recyclers, we are proud to present you with this 2018 eco-Excellence Award,” said Hemphill.
David Pope, Massabesic Middle School – Waterboro
David Pope is Science Teacher and Zero Waste Advisor at Massabesic Middle School in Waterboro, and a resident of Limington, who was nominated for this award by Ryan Parker, Sustainable Maine Policy Advocate for the Natural Resources Council of Maine. “David Pope has created what is arguably the best, and most successful example, anywhere in Maine, of a successful, student run, on-site composting program aimed at food waste reduction,” said Parker, in his nomination for Pope.
What started as a simple school lesson plan several years ago, has led Pope to guide his students and the school’s administration to create a school-wide culture of food waste recycling. In 2017, the students created enough compost to feed their 12 raised beds and the remaining compost to the local community to raise money for the program. They have since obtained a USDA Farm to School Grant to expand their raised beds to a quarter-acre farm to supply the cafeteria.
“Not only does this reduce food waste going to a landfill or waste-to-energy, it teaches students about science, math, the value of hard work, and project management,” said Troy Moon, ecomaine Board Chair, who presented Pope with his award.
The additional esteemed 2018 eco-Excellence Award winners are:
Cape Elizabeth Recycling Committee, Cape Elizabeth
Adriane Herman, artist & MECA professor, Cape Elizabeth/Portland/Yarmouth
Ryan O’Leary, Ecology Club of Scarborough, Scarborough
Debra McDonough, Scarborough Energy Committee, Scarborough
Jane Eberle, Director of Business Partnerships for South Portland Schools, South Portland
Waterboro Elementary School, Principal Christine Bertinet, Waterboro
About ecomaine and the eco-Excellence Awards
ecomaine, the nonprofit, recycling and waste-to-energy operation that serves a third of the state’s population, is located in Portland, Maine. The eco-Excellence Awards is an annual program organized by ecomaine to recognize businesses, schools or individuals in any of ecomaine’s 73 member communities. Winners are selected based on the effectiveness, increased awareness, community impact, and ease of replication of their sustainability programs or initiatives.