Volunteer Community Recycling Program
Matinicus Island had a junk car problem: old cars were rusting where owners left them in the woods and on the roadsides; trash washed up on beaches; and the two biggest island structure fires were caused by out-of-control trash fires. In 2002, Eva Murray decided Matinicus needed a better waste management system. She started small and advanced slowly, but over the last 13 years, she's built a volunteer-run recycling program that now hauls 25,000 lbs of recyclables, returnables, and trash each year and has expanded to include a yearly household hazardous waste collection day. Using donated land and volunteer labor, Matinicus has the cheapest solid waste program in the state, says Eva. It costs the town on average about $15,000 a year.
How It Works
Twice a week in summer and once a week in winter, Matinicus residents can bring their clean recyclables to four, 8ft x 16ft wooden sheds that stand on church-donated property. A dedicated group of 6-8 volunteers help residents sort their waste into banana boxes (a third use for the grocery store packaging that rapidly accumulates on the island). The sheds store the island's recyclables until “Dump Day,” which occurs roughly twice a month in summer and once per month in winter. Because the Matinicus ferry only runs 30 times a year and can accommodate just 3 or 4 trucks, Eva reserves a spot for her rented U-Haul several months in advance. On that day, she picks up the truck in Rockland (and loads any oversized, island-bound freight, carried free for program volunteers), and when the ferry docks at Matinicus, she and her volunteers have 1 hour to unload and load the truck for the return ferry to Rockland, where Eva then makes the rounds to the transfer and recycling station, redemption center, Goodwill, and paint store. “Dump Day” takes her about 36 hours.
- Test the water first. Are tax payers and town officials interested? The key, says Eva, is to “start small, let it grow, and don't try to push people around.”
- Find a point person. You want someone who can reserve ferry space, rent the truck, and organize reliable, dedicated volunteers.
- Utilize a mainland dump. Secure an inter-municipality agreement with a mainland transfer station. Pay any and all fees for disposal.
- Use banana boxes. These boxes from the grocery store are ideal for sorting waste, protecting it from breaking and spilling during the long journey, and they stack in the truck like Lego bricks.
- Donate returnable proceeds. Around $750-$1,000/year is donated to different community programs on Matinicus. Past donations have included an AED (defibrillator,) feral cat neutering veterinary clinic, student field trip money, and expenses for island CPR classes, which are offered free of charge.
Q & A with Eva Murray
Q: How do you manage non-recyclable waste?
A: We do have a town agreement with Rockland to bring some non-recyclable trash to the transfer station, but we pay all disposal fees. Between household composting, Goodwill, and Rockland's expanded recycling options, there's actually very little trash. Our rule at the sheds is “No putrescibles.” That means we'll take anything that isn't vermin-friendly or rot-prone, smelly (ex: diapers), biohazard (ex: bathroom trash), or toxic (ex: lead paint).
Q: Can you explain Household Hazardous Waste Collection Day?
A: Once a year, we hire Environmental Projects, Inc. to come out to the island to collect our household hazardous waste. Rockland Transfer Station can't take it. For one day, EPI sets up tarps in front of the fire station powerhouse and people bring their lead paint, marine paint, garden chemicals, used motor oil, etc. They'll take anything that isn't explosive or radioactive. It costs up to $6,000 to do this once a year, but it's worth it to not have lead paint seeping into our well water.
Q: You mentioned that when you first started, there was a backlog of metal waste sitting on the island. How did you reduce that to a more manageable amount that could be sustained by the monthly recycling program?
A: Everything accumulates on an island. People had three, four, five water heaters sitting in their basements. In the beginning, we held scrap metal collection days. Once or twice a year, we hired a scrap metal dealer to come out, and hired an islander who had a Bobcat loader, to load scrap metal into a truck and take it back on the ferry. That service was paid for by the users, and we did that until we got rid of the backlog. Now we can take the small amount of scrap metal generated each month and pay the disposal fee at the transfer station. In 1999, we used tax money to hire Prock Marine to bring their barge and crane out here to haul about 75 junk cars off the island.
Q: Why go through the hassle of renting a truck for each run? Wouldn't it be more effective to buy one?
A: There's no mechanic on the island. There's no garage to keep it in. Paying to keep a truck in working, legal order would be much more expensive than renting one when we need it.
Q: How do you manage seasonal population swings?
A: It's easier on Matinicus because there are no hotels or restaurants. We don't have to deal with all the food waste that some islands generate. We do have seasonal renters, though, and it's up to the rental cottage owners to encourage people to pack out their trash. Renters are welcome to bring their recycling to us, we don't turn anyone away, but we encourage them to take their non-recyclable trash away when they leave. These days, a lot of Matinicus residents are part-time locals. They have a house in Rockland or Thomaston for the winter, which means they have a dump sticker. So, they have the option of taking their trash with them when they leave the island, too.
Q: How do you rally a group of committed volunteers?
A: Committees don't make work happen; individuals make work happen. This program depends upon the 6-8 volunteers who really care enough to do the grunt work and show up every Saturday morning and to load the truck on ferry day. I do what I can to say thanks, but none of this would happen without them. Public services don't just 'happen.' They don't happen by executive fiat or by magic. One of your neighbors is doing that work.
- Infrequent ferry service and space restrictions: Matinicus' remote location means that the ferry runs only 30 times a year, and the island's small harbor means that the one ferry that can squeeze in there can carry only three or four trucks. It's essential that Eva book a spot in advance and contract with a reliable truck rental company who understands island needs: the truck has to be the specified size because Eva reserves an exact amount of footage on the ferry; the truck must be ready on the day she reserves it because the ferry schedule is set.
- Finding future organizers and volunteers: Like many island programs and projects, finding volunteers to take over as current volunteers phase out might be difficult. Those who volunteer are often already working and volunteering for multiple jobs. Eva remains optimistic. “Everyone pulls together when they have to,” she says.
Outcomes / Results
The program has increased each summer in its number of users, community support, and the amount and diversity of waste it can take. Eva estimates that on average about 100 people use the program, a majority of island residents. Users range from “the diehards to the people who only bring me their beer bottles,” says Eva, but every bit counts. She estimates the program now hauls 25,000 pounds of solid waste off the island each year.
"Eva Murray: Truck on boat" - March 2015 article in the Pen Bay Pilot
Peaks Island Transfer Station
As part of the city of Portland, Peaks Island provides weekly curbside trash pick-up and built a transfer station in 2001 to compact and transport waste from the 1,000 homes on the island. Its $597,050 (2017 fiscal year) operational budget, which covers personnel, barge transportation, electricity and water, among other expenses, is paid for by the broader city tax base. In exchange, whatever money is generated by the transfer station (most significantly from scrap metal--$346 for one 30-yd container in June 2016; $2100 a few years ago during peak demand) gets added into the city's general fund. To assist governance, each Casco Bay island has an island representative who meets with other island representatives and a city-appointed island liaison Wednesdays to discuss island needs.
How It Works
When it comes to disposing of waste, Peaks Island residents have two options: they can either set it by the curb for collection each Monday morning by one of two trucks—one trash and one recycling—or they can deliver it themselves to the Transfer Station for disposal in one of two 42-yd containers. Household trash must be bagged in official City of Portland trash bags that residents can purchase at the grocery store. Big bags cost around $2.35 for a bundle of 10; a bundle of small bags, $1.50. Residents also receive one punch card, good for the free disposal of 10 bulky items or 10yds of demolition per year. More than that, and they have to pay $36/yd.
After Monday's curbside collection, the loaded truck dumps waste into the compactor on Tuesday. Trash gets compacted three times: it gets pre-crushed in the truck, then compacted twice in the compactor's 50-yd hopper. This triple compaction helps decrease the frequency of transport off the island. Generally, a 42-yd container leaves Peaks every Thursday on a private barge operated by Lionel Plante Associates. Trash goes to Portland's city transfer station and recyclables go to Ecomaine.
The Transfer Station is open and staffed by one full-time attendant, from 7am-3pm, four days a week. It also employs 4 maintenance workers. If residents would like to deposit trash after hours, they can access station dumpsters via a footpath around one of the four gates.
- Work with resident needs. People are creatures of habit and ease, so making waste disposal accessible and hassle-free is essential to increasing participation. Establish convenient systems that make it easy for residents to dispose of household hazardous waste, bulky items, or demolition debris so that they don't mix them into trash or leave them leave them on the ground.
- Education is important. If you want people to participate effectively, you need to teach them how the system works.
Q&A with Martin Mulkern, Peaks Island Transfer Station Manager
Q: What's the biggest challenge you face as waste manager for the Casco Bay Islands?
A: Anytime you have to transport across water, it makes it more expensive. We just built a new transfer station on Great Diamond Island, with a compactor that can compact trash as well as recycling. The project budget was $732,916, which did not include the compactor unit or transportation costs. Just to get materials to the island cost $17,500.
Q: What's the budget breakdown for the Peaks Island Transfer Station?
A: Peaks' fiscal year 2017 budget is $597,050. That includes $418,655 for payroll, which also covers overtime and temporary help, and expenses for electricity and water. It also includes $80,300 for transportation, our largest operating expense. A barge run to Portland costs $300 round trip, and we do that once or twice a week in summer.
Building the Peaks transfer station was expensive. We had to clear the land and dynamite. Our staff worked with the contractor to build the concrete retaining walls behind the dumpsters, so that saved some money.
Q: The Peaks Island waste management budget is significantly higher than that of other islands. It's a bigger island, of course, but how is it sustainable?
A: Transport off the island is the biggest part of our budget, and that's the reality for every island. The budget is feasible for Peaks because, as part of the city of Portland, it has a broader tax base. Peaks Island pays $4.5 million in property taxes to the city. High property taxes means it can demand services. Residents carry trash on, but the city has to carry it off.
Q: With curbside pick-up, why would residents drop off trash themselves?
A: The trucks usually make about 600 stops, which means about 400 people bring their trash to the transfer station. People eat a lot of seafood, and they want to get rid of it when they're done with it so they don't have to deal with the odor. Even renters bring their trash in; they pick up on it real quick.
People used to just leave stuff at the gate. They'd leave bulky items—a grill, couch, fridge—or sometimes bags of trash. We have 4 gates at the transfer station and $4,000 worth of signage telling people how and where to dispose of their trash, and they'd still leave it in front of the gate if the station was closed. They hauled it down and they didn't want to haul it back. Basically, the attitude would be “It's not in my hand anymore, so I don't have to deal with it.”
It's kind of under the radar, but residents now have 24-hour access for purple bag trash and recyclables. There are footpaths on each side of the gate and two 40-yd dumpsters right inside, as well as a silver bullet (a 30-yd dumpster with a roof for cardboard collection), and recyclables bins. It's an honor system, but 99.9% of the bags left are purple.
For every bag someone brings in off-hours, that's one less bag we have to pick up curbside. Resident delivery is good for the program—saves on labor and wear on the equipment. The easier we can make it for people, the better.
Q: How do seasons affect Peaks' waste management?
A: If it's really nice weather, we get hammered with trash. In summer, we haul a 42-yd dumpster container off twice a week. We're a rental community; in winter, we're down to 400 homes. Sometimes we can go 3 weeks.
Q: How do you deal with hazardous waste?
A: We contract with Clean Harbors, a hazardous waste clean-up company, to come out for collection once a year. They send out two trucks at the transfer station, and residents can then bring their household hazardous waste down to the trucks free of charge. The trucks then load the waste into a 30-yd dumpster waiting on a barge that will then transport it off island. It costs the Clean Harbors fee, plus about $5,000 for personnel and barging.
Q: What are the advantages of single stream recycling, in which recyclables do not need to be sorted?
A: Our recycling gets processed at Ecomaine, so when they went single-stream, we did, too. It's all advantage for us: stop and dump, and you're done. Curbside used to have to sort recyclables at each stop. It was time-consuming and not cost-effective. Now, all the recyclables just get crushed up in the truck and we ship it all off to ecomaine. They separate everything out with a machine. It saves a lot of money.
- Mechanical breakdowns. Machines break down, and it can be hours before a part can reach the island. If a compactor breaks down, it doesn't take long for the trash to start backing up. Especially on an island as big as Peaks. Peaks' uses the trash truck as backup. If the compactor breaks down, the full trash truck can be loaded onto the barge in lieu of a compactor-filled container.
- Logistics of tides and scheduling. “Water is our biggest hindrance,” says Marty. At some islands, the barge can't dock at low tide. The work day fluctuates because you can't always remove waste during the standard 8-hour day. When tides are early, staff might start at 5am. Other times they work late. That means overtime pay and increased cost. Some islands have built landing ramps that are not tide dependent, but island geography dictates feasibility and cost. The ramp on Great Diamond, for example, cost $50,000.
Peaks Island transports 21-42 tons of waste and 8 tons of recyclables off the island each week in the summer. “People are great with trash and recycling,” says Marty. Probably 80-90% of residents participate in recycling.
Vinalhaven Transfer Station
In 1996, Vinalhaven decided to close its landfill and convert its waste management system to an on-island transfer station that would gather, compact, sort, and export solid waste from the 1,300 year-round residents, a population that, at a minimum, triples during July and August.
How It Works
Residents can dispose of household waste and recyclables at the Transfer Station. Waste is sorted and run through a trash compactor, purchased in 2003, then stored in several construction dumpsters that are hauled off the island by a Waste Management (WM) truck that comes out on the ferry, which also delivers empty containers at the time of pick up. Household waste must be bagged; each bag must be marked with official town waste stickers ($1.50 each). Residents may either purchase stickers beforehand or note the number of bags at time of disposal to a station attendant, who keeps a tally in a receipt book.
The station rotates household trash through three approximately 40 square yard, enclosed containers; disposal holes are covered with a tarp. There's also an open top container for demolition waste. When the dumpster containers fill, Vinalhaven Transfer Station calls WM and schedules ferry transport. Usually WM can come a couple days after the call. It costs $742 per trip, plus tippage at $58/ton, and the boat ticket at $173.5 per round trip. Household trash and demolition are shipped weekly to Crossroads Landfill in Norwichwall, near Skowhegan (sometimes twice a week in summer).
Residents sort their recycling (glass, tin, paperboard, plastics #1-8) into gray lobster bait containers (purchased second-hand from a local lobsterman), which are then loaded onto a 53-foot-long tractor trailer. Newspaper is stacked on pallets and loaded with cardboard onto the tractor trailer as well. In summer, Bunker's Trucking (a local contractor) hauls the recycling tractor trailer off-island every Friday on the second ferry (approximately once every two weeks in winter). Recycling is shipped to Rockport, Maine's transfer station.
Two employees staff the station 10 hours a day, four days a week, year-round, and they hire one extra employee in the summer to help handle the summer increase.
- Trash stickers. A sticker system helps streamline operations because people pre-pay for waste disposal. If residents don't have stickers, then transfer station attendants have to count bags and keep track of expenses.
- Trash compactor. It compresses waste to increase dumpster container space and decrease the number of exports.
Q & A with Andrew Dorr, Vinalhaven Town Manager, and Luther Tolman, Vinalhaven Transfer Station assistant
Q: What was initial cost to build the Transfer Station and how did Vinalhaven come up with these funds?
(AD): From looking at the annual town reports, it seems a recycling effort was launched in 1993, or so. As best as I can see, the initial cost to get that going was $1,900 for a compactor and two trailers. There had been two landfills here and the most recent closing was done around 1997. I have a report that indicates the capping of that landfill in 1997/1998 cost $125,000.
Q: What challenges has Vinalhaven experienced in setting up and running its transfer station?
(AD): Cost and logistics are a challenge. The operation costs us about $300,000 per year and we are only generating 1/3 of that from user fees.
(LT): If people don't have stickers, we have to count bags and tell them the balance. We keep a receipt book. It's a lot of writing down for us here; it'd be a lot better if we didn't have to deal with money.
Q: What are the yearly operational costs for the Vinalhaven Transfer Station and how is it funded?
(AD): The 5-year average cost is $282,000 per year. This years budgeted amount is $349,000; $105,000 is income generated from user fees and the remaining is supported through taxes. The waste generated at the transfer station is hauled off by three different people/businesses.
MSW and Demolition materials are hauled away by Waste Management: $742 per trip, plus tippage at $58/ton, and the boat ticket at $173.5 per round trip.
Recycling is hauled off by Bunker’s Trucking (local contractor): $225 per trip plus $220 for a round trip boat ticket. Scrap metal is hauled away by Ron Nadeau (local contractor): $150 per trip plus the boat ticket at $137.5 per round trip.
Q: What improvements have you seen since the Transfer Station opened in 1996?
(LT): The trash compactor [purchased in 2003] really helped. Everything is all contained and neater. Before, there used to be an open top [to the dumpster container] and we had to compact the trash with a back hoe and cover it with a tarp. The wind would catch the trash and blow it around. As a rule it's worked pretty good. Every now and then we blow a hydraulic bulb or something.
Q: Any advice or helpful resources for other islands looking to set up a transfer station of their own?
(AD): A question that anyone looking to set up a transfer station needs to ask and consider is will it be funded entirely by user fees, partially by user fees/partly taxes, or entirely taxes?
I would strongly encourage anyone starting new transfer station to consider single-stream recycling, a compost system, and the usual MSW and Demo piles. A discussion about accepting metal should be had. The challenge for islands is that all waste has to leave one way or another. You can offer the services through municipal operations or hope that people dispose of these items properly.
The more recycling/reusing and waste reduction education a community can do, the cheaper it will be to export waste.
- Cost and logistics of waste transport.
- Variety and abundance of waste. Vinalhaven employs 3 different contractors to haul different types of waste off-island. In summer, its population swells to over three times its year-round population.
Outcomes / Results
Luther estimates that the Vinalhaven Transfer Station ships about 12-14 tons of trash a week normally, more in summer. On average, Vinalhaven produces 6-8 bait containers of recyclables a week.
“Most people are on board,” says Luther. “It's a lot neater now than it used to be. We don't have the trash heap like we used to and no rats. I've been working here for 16 years and haven't seen a rat yet.”
Monhegan Trash & Recycling
Shortly after Angela Iannicelli first moved to Monhegan in 2004, she was asked to coordinate the island's trash and recycling program. At that point, each bag of trash had to be stuffed into a small on-island compactor. Diapers, hypodermic needles, dog poop—all came up into employees' faces. With no town-provided hepatitis shots and no-restrictions trash policy, the system was a biohazard to all involved. There had to be a better way. Since 2006, Angela and the Monhegan Trash & Recycling Program have contracted with a private waste management company and a private barge to supply and haul a rotating group of construction dumpsters for island waste.
How It Works
Twice a week for one hour each, Travis Dow, the Monhegan Trash & Recycling Program's sole, part-time employee, opens up ballfield construction dumpsters for residents to drop off their waste. All trash must be contained within town-issued, 30-gallon purple plastic trash bags ($10/bag). Recycling is deposited in a different construction dumpster. When each trash and recycling container is nearly full (which happens at about the same rate), Travis switches residents over to the two trash and recycling dumpsters waiting in reserve, and schedules a pick up with Central Maine Disposal, a private waste management company located on the mainland, and schedules a spot on the Island Transporter, a private barge company that ferries the truck out to Monhegan and back. The truck brings two empty dumpsters to the island and hauls away the two full dumpsters.
- There are five construction containers. Two are for trash (one actively filling and one in reserve), two are for recycling (one active, one reserve), and the fifth covered container is for cardboard. In summer, 2 containers (one trash and one recycling) are hauled off island about every 10 days. In winter, they last the whole season before filling. The cardboard container only fills about once a year.
- The five dumpster containers sit on land owned by Monhegan Associates, the land trust that owns seventy-five percent of island land. The program is able to lease the land for free.
- Trash bags that pile up on top of each other naturally compact themselves. This solves the early challenge of garbage oozing out of the small island compactor.
- Recycling is single-stream. It doesn't need to be sorted, but it does need to be clean.
- Returnables can be deposited in bags that are then hauled by Monhegan Boat Line (the private, year-round ferry) to Port Clyde for free, where Trekkers, a nonprofit, outdoor-based youth mentoring program based in Thomaston, collect the bags in exchange for the deposit money.
Q & A with Angela Iannicelli
How do you pay for Monhegan's Trash & Recycling Program?
The program doesn't pay for itself. Our budget is $45,000-$47,000/year. The majority of that revenue comes from the sale of purple trash bags ($10 for each 30-gallon bag) and some from cardboard disposal fees ($8 for a 6 inch-thick?, 2ft x 3ft stack of cardboard). Recycling is free to drop off, but we're all still paying for its disposal through taxes. About $20,000 of our budget comes tax payers, specifically from our property tax revenue. Trash is never romantic; you can never have fundraisers for it.
How do you handle the summer tourism spike?
Monhegan has three small hotels, and summer tourism, while an important source of island revenue, also generates a lot of waste. In the beginning, we hoped to use the Monhegan Boat Line (the private, year-round ferry that services Monhegan from Port Clyde) to haul trash. But tourists take front seat over rotting, maggoty trash, so now the program pays for its own barge to ferry out the CMD truck every 10 days in the summer. (It only goes once in the winter). To help cut down on summer trash, there are no public trash cans on the island. Day trippers are required to take their trash back to the mainland.
Why did you decide to use Central Maine Disposal, even though they're located in Fairfield, nearly two hours from the Port Clyde ferry?
I tried calling two other waste management companies first, but they seemed too big and formal. Central Maine is a smaller company and really accommodating. Monhegan has the most elevation of any Maine island, and driving off the barge, the truck has to immediately go up a big hill. The driver has to back down a narrow alley to get back on the barge. One time the truck got stuck on the beach because there was too much seaweed. We need someone who's going to go out of their comfort zone, still be legal, and get the job done.
- Cost. Contracting with a private waste management company and private barge is expensive. The Island Transporter costs $400/hr and each run takes 3 hours. Central Maine Disposal costs over $325/hr. Because they're based in Fairfield, ME, it takes them almost two hours to drive to Port Clyde, plus the three to ferry out. According to the Monhegan Town Report, program expenses in 2015 were $50,276.54. Of that, $18,485.53 went to Island Transporter (the private barge) and $23,488.47 went to MC Disposal, Inc. (the contracted waste management company, Central Maine Disposal). The program has considered charging a drop-off fee for recycling as well but is afraid this might dissuade residents from recycling altogether.
- Mail-order cardboard. Residents have become savvy to the fact USPS, FedEx, and UPS pay the ferry freight bill, so ordering items from a company with low or no shipping costs means doorstep delivery at a very attractive price. Cardboard waste has increased exponentially. Some residents burn it in their fireplace, some recycle it for the $8 disposal fee. In exchange for generating income by ordering and paying for freight, the Monhegan Boat Line hauls off cardboard waste from the island's three small hotels for free.