Solutions Library

Monhegan Trash & Recycling

Managing Solid Waste

While mainland residents can adopt an 'out of sight, out of mind' approach to their trash, if you live on an island, you know that solid waste removal is neither simple nor invisible. Nor cheap. In the age of plastics, older island methods like burning, backyard dumping, and ocean sinking aren't legal or desirable. Islands present particular challenges when managing solid waste. Finite space, thin topsoil, and the high potential for groundwater contamination preclude the traditional landfill. Federal clean air acts and the risk of fire prevent large-scale burning. Remote locations and erratic ferry schedules mean that transport off the island can be infrequent and expensive. Whether contracting with a nearby city, using private barge, or relying upon volunteers, each island must consider its own particular set of circumstances when developing a sustainable waste management program.

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.



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.



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.

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