Recycling: Planning is an important first step in setting up a municipal recycling program
(from Maine Townsman, August 1990)
by Thomas Outerbridge

EDITOR'S NOTE: This article is excerpted from A Manual for Small Town Recycling, which is due shortly for publication by the Maine Waste Management Agency. It is a slightly edited version of one of eight chapters in the manual. Other chapters are entitled: Maine's Solid Waste Management Law; Designing a Recycling Center, Operating a Recycling Center, Ordinances; Promotion and Education and Case Studies. The author, Thomas Outerbridge, is a former staff member of the Office of Waste Reduction and Recycling, Department of Economic and Community Development.

A feasible timeline for planning and initiating a recycling program is six months. Specific steps useful in setting up a program are outlined below and are important as a prelude to the actual design of a recycling center.

Create a Recycling Committee

Creating a committee is not absolutely essential to implementing recycling in your town or region; it is, however, strongly recommended. A committee can greatly facilitate much of the work. It is also a factor that the State will be taking into consideration when providing financial assistance to towns.

When forming your committee, make sure all parties are well represented. Involving citizens, community organizations, municipal officials, and representatives from local businesses, educational institutions and the waste management industry during your initial planning phase, can help insure that the program enjoys widespread support once implemented. Also, with the right make-up, a committee can be very helpful in the design of a center, the drafting of an ordinance, and the development of a thorough public education and awareness campaign.

Set a Goal

The new State law sets goals for reductions in the amount of waste being disposed of. These can serve as a useful guideline for municipal and regional programs. They will be used as a criteria in the State's financial assistance programs, and a means whereby the State will evaluate local efforts.

Regardless of State goals, a local goal can be an excellent public education tool, it can help in the targeting of materials for recycling, and it can act as a standard by which a municipality can gauge the success of its program.

Start Gathering Information

A good base of information is essential to have in order to begin the design and implementation of a successful recycling program. Data gathering can be accomplished by your volunteer recycling committee, a municipal employee or someone hired specifically for the task, such as a consultant or program coordinator.

A great deal of information has already been collected regarding waste recycling and composting. The Maine Waste Management Agency (MWMA) and other municipal recycling programs in the state are invaluable sources for: information on markets, "keys to a successful program," samples of promotional materials, model graphics for promotional materials, municipal recycling ordinances and much more. Still more information is or will be developed by MWMA in conjunction with other State agencies, such as a waste curriculum for grades K-12 and operational guidelines for a leaf composting program.

Other information specific to your community can be obtained from local individuals and organizations. Future population projections are usually available from regional planning agencies. Much about current waste disposal practices can be learned from landfill or transfer station attendants and trash haulers. A list of local businesses can often be found at local chambers of commerce or municipal assessors' offices.

Some towns, through surveys, and preparation for the development of "Comprehensive Plans" may have already gathered information on public attitudes towards recycling. However, when this is not the case, public opinions as well as other data, such as waste composition and the potential for a regional program, may have to be obtained first-hand by whomever has been assigned to the job.

It's important to remember when gathering your information that there is no one correct way of setting up a recycling program. What constitutes important information can change from one town to the next depending on the types of local businesses present, seasonal population fluctuations, proximity to New Hampshire, or any number of other local characteristics. Be conscious of tailoring the program to fit individual town needs!

Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) Stream

Material Type

% of MSW Stream

Average Annual Per Capita Generation Rate

paper 35


yard waste 15 207
food waste 14 193
durable goods 11 152
glass containers 9 124
plastics 7


ferrous containers 2


aluminum 2 28
miscellaneous 5 69
TOTAL 100 1382
*All weights in pounds; numbers have been rounded off.

Assess the Waste Stream

A waste composition study, or waste stream analysis as they are also known, will determine what materials are in the waste stream and in what quantities. A thorough study will also track seasonal variations in the waste stream, and pinpoint generators of waste that differ significantly from the norm, such as business or industries.

The figures provided in the accompanying tables were taken from national surveys of the municipal solid waste stream. Although they can be used as a general guideline for the size and composition of your community's waste stream, it is probable that yours will vary to one extent or another. Consequently, it is recommended that each community carry out a waste composition study, which is as specific to its own waste stream as possible.

Seasonal Fluctuations

Many communities in Maine have large population fluctuations due to tourism. During the 1984-85 tourist season it is estimated that 6.2 million non-residents visited the state - roughly six times the population.

Such tourism impacts on the waste stream greatly. For example, a study commissioned by the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) found the following extreme cases:

Of course, the figures above do not mean that each resident of Rockport generates 14 pounds of trash every day. They mean that one cannot take the year round population of Rockport (roughly 3,000) and multiply it by the average per capita waste generation rate for a town that size (3 to 3.5 lbs/capita/day) and arrive at even a rough estimate of the size of the waste steam.

The figures in Table III could, however, provide a general idea of how much waste is being generated by non-residents. For example, Ogunquit with a year-round population of 1,500 might expect a per capita waste generation rate of 2 lbs per day and an annual generation rate for the town of about 550 tons. However, according to the figure above, Ogunquit is generating about 5,200 tons per year (the DEP study actually puts the figure at more than 6,000 tons/year). Thus at least 4,650 tons, or roughly 90% of the town's waste is generated by non-residents, and most of that during the summer months.

The DEP study also made the following summary of tourist activity: Nearly one half of non-resident visitors go to the south coast region; The Downeast/Acadia region is the second most visited, followed by the Western Lakes and Mountain region, and the Mid-Coast region; Nearly one half of the visitors come in the summer; fall is the second most popular time for tourists.

In addition to out-of-state tourist activity, influx from within the state can be significant. Thus while winter time tourism may be slow, consider the case of Carrabassett Valley home to the Sugarloaf ski resort, which has a per capita waste generation rate of 47 lbs/day.

In addition to changes due to seasonal population fluctuations, there are other seasonal variations in the waste stream. For example, during the autumn leaf fall, leaves can make clippings add significantly to the waste stream. Even holidays affect the waste stream - during the Christmas season there is an unusually large amount of paper and corrugated and non-corrugated cardboard that is thrown away.

Local Business & Industry

The business and industries located in your area can have an enormous impact on the waste stream, and hence the design of a waste reduction program.

For example, some communities in Washington County estimate that 50% of their solid waste is blueberry waste. Clearly composting will be an important component of a waste reduction program in this situation. Likewise, communities with large numbers of restaurants and grocery stores will find that the organic fraction of their waste steams is higher than average.

Due to the large number of retail outlets, Freeport estimates that 60% of the waste stream is from businesses, and most of that is corrugated cardboard. And this does not even include the corrugated generated by L.L. Bean, an estimated 20 tons/day during the Christmas season.

Some coastal communities face special problems with the waste generated by the fishing industry. This can be a particularly odiferous waste, but it is being successfully composted in some communities. More information on fish waste composting in Maine is available from the Department of Agriculture, Food & Rural Resources in Augusta, or the Time & Tide RC&D, in Waldoboro.

Miscellaneous Factors

Proximity to New Hampshire can result in an unusually large number of non-deposit bottles and aluminum cans in the waste stream. However, with the passage of the State's new solid waste legislation, that number may decrease, since the law provides for the fining of any person possessing more than 48 beverages containers not labeled under the State's "Bottle Bill."

As a general rule, the larger the population, the greater the per capita waste generation rate.

Rural areas tend to produce less waste. There is greater usage in these areas of organics (food and yard waste) in gardens, and a greater reliance on wood heat, meaning more paper is burned.

Determine Avoided Disposal Costs

The vast majority of recycling programs justify themselves economically by the costs that are being avoided by recycling waste, and not through the revenues from selling recyclables. For example, one may receive only $15 a ton from a glass broker, but if one is paying $45 to dispose of waste, then a ton of glass recycled is worth not only the $15 revenue, but also the $45 avoided disposal cost. In some cases, even paying a broker to accept a material, such as newspaper, may be economically preferable to paying for its disposal.

Very few materials, some non-ferrous metals and high grade papers being the exception, are, in and of themselves, valuable enough to warrant the cost of removing them from the waste stream, processing them, storing them, and transporting them to a market. Consequently, calculating the costs of waste disposal for your town is critical to justifying the costs of a recycling program.

If a town is sending its waste to an incinerator, the principal costs will be collection, operation and maintenance of a transfer station, transportation and the tipping fee charged by the incinerator. Also consider such things as additional equipment and insurance fees.

If a town is using its own landfill, then savings from recycling can be calculated in terms of extended landfill life. This can be very valuable indeed, especially when one considers the costs of close-out and development of a new landfill, or the construction of a transfer station for getting the waste to another disposal facility.

Investigate Opportunities for Regionalization

Whether or not a program is regional is a critical factor that will be used in deciding who will receive grants from MWMA.

It is not economically practical or efficient to have fully equipped recycling programs in each of Maine's 492 municipalities. Recycling requires equipment and labor, both of which can be costly; consequently, programs that unnecessarily duplicate one another cannot be supported by State funds. Indeed, the fact of the matter is that for many small towns, the volume of the recyclables stream does warrant the purchase of recycling equipment and the construction of a recycling building. However, in a regional program where recyclables from several towns can be gathered in a single location for processing and marketing, recycling can be economically feasible, particularly in a climate of steadily climbing disposal costs.

There are numerous innovative programs arising to serve small towns. For example, Pownal and North Yarmouth use a 30 cubic yard roll-off container, divided into compartments, which has been provided to them by a private waste hauler. Once the container is filled with recyclables, it is transported to various recycling centers, where the materials are collected and processed for market.

Marketing of Recyclable Materials

One of the keys to securing markets for recyclables is to develop a product that is consistent in quality and steady in volume. The more recyclables a program can generate, the better its access to markets will be.

The Pittsfield recycling center is able to market its newspaper directly to a paper mill. The reason: it has proven that it can provide a product of consistently high quality, and it can provide a significant volume on a regular basis. (At the Pittsfield recycling center they bale newspaper from approximately eight towns, ranging in population from 400 to 4,500.)

Involve Local Business & Industry

As stated above, local businesses and industries can affect the waste stream enormously, in which case their cooperation will be essential to achieving a significant reduction in disposal needs. Business and industry can become involved in two important ways. First, businesses can assist the town in gaining public support for, and participation in the program. Businesses could offer space for a public drop-off box, donate services for the printing of a brochure, pitch in for household recycling containers, offer window space for posters, sponsor a logo contest, begin carrying cloth diapers and reusable shopping bags, or any number of other possibilities.

The second way for businesses to become involved is by recycling materials from their own waste stream. The commercial sector generates waste that is often relatively homogenous, thus making it more easily sorted for recycling than residential waste, The commercial waste stream may also be a source of some of your more valuable recyclables, such as corrugated cardboard and high grade papers.

In addition to recycling materials through your local program, there are several important state-wide programs, opportunities and requirements, which are targeted specifically at businesses. For example, the new State waste management law requires that the private sector recycle office paper and corrugated cardboard by: July 1, 1991 when employing 200 people or more; July 1, 1992 when employing 50 or more; and July 1, 1993 when employing 15 or more. MWMA has compiled a guide to recycling in the office place to assist businesses in setting up programs. Aside from mandating paper recycling, the law bans certain products, provides for State procurement preferences for products with recycled content, and offers tax credits for recycling equipment and facilities.

As another example, the Maine Chamber of Commerce & Industry (MCCI) has established a loan fund for recycling and waste reduction related projects proposed by the private sector. MCCI has, like the State, established a waste management hierarchy, with source reduction as the strategy of top priority.

As a final example, MCCI and MWMA have developed and are at this moment implementing a program called "WASTECAP." According to MWMA literature, the program will function in three ways: "(1) by providing the business community with greater awareness of waste reduction, utilization, and recycling opportunities, and (2) by making specific recommendations for changes, and (3) by introducing educational materials for use on generating awareness and acceptance of the program." These services will be available to all Maine businesses, and will be provided by "teams" coordinated by MWMA. "Teams" will be made up primarily of volunteers from the business community. For information businesses should contact MWMA or MCCI in Augusta.

In summary, the involvement of local businesses and industries is important if not critical to an effective waste reduction program. Representatives from the private sector should be involved in the planning and implementation of your recycling program, and they should be encouraged to follow up on the other private sector responsibilities and opportunities that exist regarding source reduction and recycling.

Select Your Materials

Once you have a good idea of what materials are in the waste stream and in what quantity, including those of neighboring towns if it is going to be a regional program, you can select the materials with which to start a program. First though, a couple of observations:

Accompanying this article is a listing of materials in the waste stream that are being targeted by recycling/composting programs around New England and the state. Note that market conditions are constantly changing, and it is important not only to select materials by the volume they will divert from the waste stream, but also by the availability of markets for them. Contact the markets! (A list of markets is available from MWMA. It is also worth noting that MWMA will be producing a marketing plan for the state.)

Generating recyclable materials that are of high quality (free from contaminants) is of the utmost importance. More and more municipalities and businesses around the Northeast are implementing recycling programs, which means there are more and more recyclables on the market and hence brokers and end-users are able to be more and more picky about the materials they will accept or buy. Anyone who has ever heard will remember that there is one thing that is constantly stressed - quality. Brokers will be able to tell you what the contaminants are, and how much contamination is acceptable before the recyclables lose their marketability.

It is important to keep in mind that a market for a material does not necessarily mean that one will be paid for that material. It only means that there is a place for that material to go other than a landfill or incinerator, even if it means paying a broker to accept it. In other words, you are looking for an outlet for your materials, not necessarily a high dollar value.

Because of the extent and frequency of market fluctuations, there has been no attempt to give actual figures in the listing of recyclable materials. These can be obtained from the markets themselves, or the operators of other municipal recycling programs.

Design a Collection System

How your town currently handles waste will influence how you design your recycling system. For example, if your town operates a transfer station where residents bring their own waste, then a drop-off center at the transfer station is probably the best solution. If, on the other hand, a town offers curbside collection of trash to its residents, then curbside collection of recyclables will yield the best results.

If there are private haulers working your town, one can require them to offer collection of recyclables as well, collect recyclables with a municipal vehicle, or like the CRLH system, one can give the haulers other incentives to provide this service.

There are numerous variations of the two basic methods of curbside collection and drop-off. Drop-off boxes can be set up at convenient places around town. Freeport has done this with four new boxes, built by the public works department, which are now spread about town. Curbside collection can be established for a few materials such as paper and glass, and a broader array of materials can be accepted at the recycling center. One can offer curbside collection to businesses and have residents drop-off, or visa-versa.

If the program is going to be curbside then it must be determined how materials are going to be separated for collection. Many programs require residents to put out paper bundled or in bags and mixed containers (glass, metal and plastic) in a separate container. Another option is to have residents put out all recyclables in a single container. Materials can be further separated at the curb by the hauler, or can be taken to the recycling center for segregation. However, the closer to the source that separation occurs, the less the need for and expense of processing materials. Generally speaking, small towns do not generate the volume that would justify the cost of a separation system at the recycling center, meaning that for curbside programs, separation should either occur in the household, at the curb by garbage haulers, or through some combination of the two.

Those planning curbside programs should consider the experience of many existing programs that have found participation is substantially increased by providing residents with containers. Research by R.W. Beck and Associates has shown that household containers can double or even quadruple resident participation.


Paper Grades as a Percentage of MSW

Paper Grade

% of MSW Stream

Average Annual PerCapita Generation Rate




books & magazines



office paper



corrugated cardboard



clean mixed paper






*All weights in pounds; numbers have been rounded off.