More than 100 Maine communities began a search 10 years ago to find a new opportunity that would provide a solution to their municipal solid waste (MSW) and recycling issues.
Maine municipalities formed the Municipal Review Committee (MRC) in 1991 to help restructure waste disposal contracts and address MSW challenges on behalf of its members. MRC partnered and facilitated waste disposal contracts between 187 Maine communities and waste-to-energy facility Penobscot Energy Recovery Company (PERC), Orrington, Maine, for the past 30 years. However, MRC developed different views recently of how waste should be handled. Before its contract ended with PERC in March 2018, the committee set out to find “new opportunities and technologies” to process their MSW and recyclables “other than combustion.”
“Ten years before the end of our contract, MRC started planning for the end,” says Karen Fussell, MRC vice presidentand finance director. “We knew we had to do something radically different. In the end, we ended up choosing Fiberight.”
Unlike a traditional material recover facility (MRF) where materials are collected, baled and shipped for processing, materials are processed on-site at Fiberight’s Hampden, Maine-based Coastal Resources of Maine facility, which keeps costs low for the municipalities.
In what it calls the “next generation of recycling,” the facility combines traditional waste and recycling methods with technology to recover organics, paper, plastics and glass from residential waste stream. Organics, for example, are recovered, processed through anaerobic digestion and fed into a natural gas pipeline, which generates electricity for half of New England. Glass is processed into aggregate for public works projects. The facility also uses a pulping and briquette process.
“We are establishing something that’s first of its kind,” says Shelby Wright, Fiberight’s director of community services. “We have to talk to people about what that really means. I’ve been having a lot of communication with municipalities to further the understanding that Coastal Resources of Maine has been designed to recover materials in the waste stream.”
She adds, “We’re doing that all on-site, which cuts down on transportation, emissions, overhead and cost to municipalities."
Maintaining recycling programs has been difficult for the rural Maine communities because of the costs, Fussel says. Before Fiberight, her community sent recyclables more than 100 miles away to be processed at a cost of $175 per ton. The MRC didn’t want to mandate recycling for communities that couldn’t afford it, but “it was important to our members that recycling be an option,” Fussel says.
With Fiberight, “they know even if their community has stopped their recycling programs, the facility is going to be pulling recyclables from the waste stream. Making use of all of these materials helps mitigate that feeling of maybe I should still be separating,” she adds.
MRC purchased the site in Hampden and worked with Fiberight to acquire needed permits and licenses for construction and put arrangements in place to support financing, construction and operation. The $70 million facility began accepting residential MSW April 22.
For the past 30 years, Wright in one way or another has educated the public about the proper way to recycle, whether with her college environmental group or for Fiberight. She says with the amount of material on the market today, from No. 3-7 plastics to different types of cardboard, recycling has “become more and more complicated.”
“Folks who are committed to recycling do the best they can, but that’s about 30 to 35 percent of the population,” Wright says. “Fiberight was designed for the other 65 to 70 percent of people. Fiberight meets the market where it’s at and provides a solution with little or no change to consumer behavior.”
Fiberight will ramp up production in the next few months, with plans to begin all waste disposal and single-stream recycling contracts with the MRC communities and commercial waste processing by July. The facility has capacity to process 180,000 tons of materials per year.
“There is room for expansion to take in more commercial and specialty waste,” Wright says. “We’re focused on serving the communities. Maine has a small population. We don’t feel we built a plant that was too big to serve the area nor to small.”