UPDATE: An investigation has found Portland's former solid waste manager authorized the commingling of materials on dead-end streets and in tight areas if refuse trucks arrived before recycling trucks, according to the Portland Press Herald. The city confirmed the situation happened in a few limited situations.
Portland held a group meeting with public works staff on the issue and says it will not happen again going forward.
"Given that all involved felt that they were following work rules, it is difficult to point the blame on one individual and make an example of them," said city spokeswoman Jessica Grondin in an email to the Herald. "What we decided to do was to have a group meeting with the entire division to go over all of the rules and expectations so everyone clearly understands what the expectations are."
- A Portland, ME resident filmed two collection workers mixing waste and recyclables in the same truck on her phone this week and alerted the city.
- The city is investigating the incident and hasn't publicly identified the two employees. One is a unionized city worker and the other is a temporary hire.
- Residents are required to place recyclables in blue bins and all other waste in city-approved purple bags. Six trucks with two workers each normally split the collection routes.
City officials said mixing waste is only allowed during special circumstances, such as snowstorms, and the practice is not common. Portland's waste is handled by the ecomaine recycling facility and waste-to-energy plant. The city has a 38% diversion rate and a spokesperson for ecomaine said that number would likely be much lower if workers were regularly mixing waste.
Whether it's due to convenience, carelessness or some other reason, waste mixing seems to be a common issue. Last year, a California resident filmed local collection workers putting recyclables in the same truck as refuse multiple times. Waste Management of Delaware was fined nearly $44,000 for mixing waste in April. In a similar case of employees going rogue, a collection worker in Canada was fired recently for shoveling snow into his truck to help weigh it down at the transfer station.
While these incidents often don't reflect the dedication of a workforce or the success of a city's program, they can be damaging to residents' confidence in recycling. Portland residents don't need any additional reasons to question the system after the cost of trash bags increased last year and a new study showed the city's lidless recycling bins are contributing to litter conditions.
UPDATE: An investigation has since found that Portland's former solid waste manager authorized the commingling of materials on dead-end streets and in tight areas if refuse trucks arrived before recycling trucks. The city held a group meeting with public works staff on on the issue and says it will not happen going forward.