The State of Solid Waste in Maine 2004

Caitlin E. Chamberlin


Solid Waste: The Issue in Context


The management of municipal solid waste (MSW) is an important global and local environmental issue. Solid waste is defined by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as “waste generated in households, commercial establishments, institutions and businesses. MSW includes used paper, discarded cans and bottles, food scraps, yard trimmings and other items. Industrial process wastes, agricultural wastes, mining wastes and sewage sludge are not MSW1.” If disposed of improperly, MSW has several negative effects on humans and the environment including contamination of water and soil, which can cause poor sanitation and the spread of disease2. Additionally, improper disposal can attract rodents, fleas, birds, and other pests, along with creating potentially dangerous airborne pathogens3.

In the US alone, approximately 231.9 million tons of MSW was generated in 2000. Of this amount, 162 million tons was disposed of in landfills or sent to incinerators. The total quantity of materials recovered for recycling or composting was approximately 70 million tons, which comprises 30.2 percent4. The US is the largest producer of MSW in the world. People in the US are currently responsible for producing on average 4.62 pounds of waste each day. This is almost one pound more than the second largest producer, Canada, which produces 3.75 pounds per capita per day. Sweden and Germany are much more efficient industrialized nations, producing under 2 pounds of MSW per person each day, a quantity that is less than half as great as that generated in the US5.

Industrialized countries are responsible for producing the majority of the world’s MSW, yet developing nations often suffer more from the adverse effects of waste due to lack of proper disposal methods. The options for management of solid waste in developing nations are limited. This is largely due to factors such as high population densities and rapid population growth rates along with limited financial and human resources. Population pressures on developing communities have caused inadequate waste disposal to create unhygienic conditions2.

MSW is often placed in a landfill when recycling or incinerators are not viable options for waste management. Landfills are chosen due to lack of development or simply because a type or quantity of waste produced cannot be recycled or incinerated. Landfills have the potential to contaminate air, surface water, sediment, soil and groundwater6. The ash produced from waste incinerators is disposed of in landfills, and has the potential to be swept into the air by wind. Ash that becomes airborne has the potential to contaminate fragile ecosystems and freshwater systems7. Health problems that arise from breathing ash polluted air, drinking contaminated water, or being exposed to hazardous waste affect human populations as well. In addition to the health concerns that arise with solid waste disposal, people are also affected by the aesthetics of waste. Most people would appreciate solid waste that is disposed of in a safe and inconspicuous manner.

            The amount of MSW produced continues to increase. The EPA estimates that in the US in 2001, 4.4lbs of waste was generated per person per day, as compared to only 2.7lbs in 19605. This 61 percent increase has caused the demand for dealing with solid waste to increase as well. More innovative methods have been developed to meet the growing need for MSW disposal. The importance of eco-friendly disposal methods, such as recycling, have less impact on the environment than landfills, and have been critical to protecting humans and the environment as the amount of waste generated continues to grow.


Legislation and Law

Programs initiated by Non Government Organizations and other regimes have confronted the issue of waste in some areas of the world by developing management strategies and implementation assistance. For example, in developing countries such as Bangladesh and India, local people have undergone hands-on training in waste separation, collection, composting, marketing of recyclable material and compost with the aid of NGOs 8. In addition, multilateral environmental agreements have been designed specifically to address the issue of solid waste. Examples of agreements include the three conventions, Basel, Rotterdam, and Stockholm, developed under the United Nations Environmental Program. They address hazardous waste disposal and persistent organic pollutants2.

In addition, Agenda 21, created at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in 1992, concentrates on the effects of waste on other environmental issues. Agenda 21 outlines strategies for changing consumption patterns and protecting and promoting human health conditions with environmentally sound management of toxic chemicals and the protection of the quality of freshwater sources. A hierarchy of objectives was developed within Chapter 21 of Agenda 21 that includes waste minimization, maximizing environmentally sound waste reuse and recycling, promoting environmentally sound waste disposal and treatment, and extending waste service coverage8,9.

International associations and initiatives exist to globally address the issue of waste. The International Solid Waste Association (ISWA) is a Copenhagen-based association designed to promote and develop sustainable waste management worldwide. There are thirty-four member countries that focus primarily on supporting developing nations in implementing eco-efficient and sustainable waste management systems. An International Waste Treaty does not currently exist, yet the ISWA is in the process of creating one10.

            Domestically, solid waste is managed at federal, state and community levels. At the federal level, the most important regulation is the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) of 1976 and its 1984 and 1986 amendments. The act is designed to improve the management of solid waste in the US. Reasons for government response have been both the human health implications of neglecting solid waste, as well as the environmental benefits from regulation. RCRA enables the EPA to control the generation, transportation, treatment, storage, and disposal of hazardous waste, while also creating a framework for the management of non-hazardous wastes1.


Municipal Solid Waste: The Issue in Maine


            The issue of MSW affects the state’s diverse environment, as well as the approximately 1.4 million people that live in Maine11. Fortunately, the state of Maine has an organized and advanced system that is prepared to deal with the waste generated by its residents. Despite these advances, there remain human health and environmental concerns related to MSW that must be addressed by the state.

            The policy of the EPA toward MSW is an integrated management plan that has been adopted by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). Three major components define the plan’s focus. Broadly, these include source reduction, recycling, and disposal. By tackling the first of these three points, the problem can be confronted at the root of the issue, which therefore makes source reduction the most important focus of the EPA and DEP in managing solid waste12.

Legislation and Law

The EPA has certain MSW regulations that set minimum national standards in management. More stringent regulations are left up to states. In Maine, policies have been developed on both the state and local levels. Many state policies require greater action to decrease MSW levels than those developed by the federal government. These include state reduction planning, residential program development, commercial program development, and support from the state government to implement these programs13. Furthermore, communities have developed their own approach to solid waste management that is often completely separate from federal or state regulation. Different approaches to programs such as recycling, sewage treatment and community education programs are often dependent on a state’s or community’s interest in being environmentally friendly and encouraging sustainable behaviors.

The state has made goals to reduce the amount of solid waste produced in Maine. These goals include specific dates that certain rates of recycling are to be achieved by. Maine municipalities agreed upon a 50 percent recycling goal in 1989. Since then, the agreement has been amended twice to allow for more time to reach this goal. According to the Maine State Planning Office, the state achieved a 40.4 percent statewide recycling rate in 1999, yet had not met the original goal of 50 percent. Currently, it is the state’s intent to decrease solid waste tonnage by 5 percent every two years until this goal is attained. There are no penalties associated with failure to meet goals14.

Maine has addressed hazardous waste in addition to municipal waste. A plan was outlined to significantly reduce the amount of hazardous waste produced. The goals for minimizing the amount of hazardous waste generated statewide are a 40 percent reduction by January l, 2002, a 50 percent reduction by January 1, 2004 and a 60 percent reduction by January 1, 200615. We are not currently meeting these goals.

            MSW is dealt with mostly at the community level in Maine. Funding and organizational assistance is given by the state, and basic regulation is mandated by the state's Planning Office through the Waste Management & Recycling Program. However, particular approaches to dealing with MSW depend upon the community. It is required by the state that towns annually report their waste and recycling data for monitoring purposes.

Along with larger plans designed to tackle problems such as hazardous waste disposal and large-scale MSW management plans, smaller programs are in effect. An Executive Order created in 1992 addressed the problem of waste in state agencies. An Inter-Agency Waste Reduction and Recycling Task Force was developed to mandate policies such as promoting employee environmental education16. Another program instigated by the state of Maine is the Reusable Bag Campaign, developed in 1994. This is a voluntary program that encourages the use of reusable bags. The slogan “Bring Your Own Bag” was developed and marketed to businesses for a small cost ($5) to encourage customers to reuse bags, therefore saving the business money. In 1995 alone, Maine contributed approximately $7,000 to develop this plan17.

Maine is one of ten states to participate in the bottle bill initiative, a plan designed to increase recycling rates of glass and plastic beverage bottles. Beverage distributors are required to use a refund system for their containers as an incentive for consumers to recycle. Consumers pay an additional 5, 10, or 15 cents upon purchase. This monetary amount is then refunded to the consumer when the empty bottle is returned to a recycling station. Most supermarkets have stations designed exclusively to accept bottles and provide refunds for consumers. An EPA study shows that more containers are recycled in the ten participating bottle bill states than the other forty US states combined18.

Another approach in Maine that uses market-based incentives is the Pay-As-You-Throw plan, which is widely used. With this system, businesses and residents pay for their waste based on the amount that they produce. Costs for trash differ depending on town, but in most cases, recycling is free of charge. This system not only encourages recycling of materials, but also discourages unnecessary consumption. As of April 2002, more than one hundred communities are participating in this program19. Although rates per volume of waste are variable among communities the outcome is generally the same: less MSW is generated.

             Major contributors to MSW are food scraps and yard waste. To address this issue, the Maine Waste Management Agency created a Master Composter program that was developed to deal specifically with these two types of waste. In conjunction with the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, educational programs were created to teach communities about composting food scraps and yard trimmings. The program is designed to increase community involvement in composting in order to decrease the total amount of MSW generated in the state20.

            Maine is also active in supporting local governments, which makes possible many of the local programs that have been implemented. There are many ways the state assists different regions in dealing with MSW. One way this is accomplished is by providing grants and loans. With this money, local governments are able to offer yard waste programs such as pick up services and purchasing backyard composting bins for residents21.


Indicators, Policy, and Analysis


            The current state of solid waste in Maine can be examined by specifically evaluating the consumption, disposal, and management of MSW throughout the state. There are many types of waste managed in Maine, however MSW is the largest contributor to the waste stream today22. In this analysis I review the trends provided by several environmental indicators. Additionally, representative indicators allow evaluation of current management practices. The future of MSW in the state of Maine depends heavily on proper planning and development.

            Disposed waste is more feasible to measure than materials consumed, therefore this report focuses most heavily on the quantity of waste generated. Each municipality in Maine is responsible for reporting the amount of waste processed each year to the Waste Management and Recycling Program of the Maine State Planning Office in Augusta23. The result is an annual compilation of data representing the quantity of MSW, processed by the Planning Office, of each waste management facility. Management decisions that affect particular regions can then be based upon regional data, while decisions that affect the entire state can be based upon assessments of the data in aggregate.

            Waste is categorized within the reports into specific types (i.e., recycled glass, yard waste, etc.). Indicators that demonstrate which sub categories of waste are increasing or decreasing in quantity allow for more applicable management methods. Specifically, the major indicators of importance in monitoring types of MSW include: annual quantity of non-recycled waste generated, and annual quantity of recycled waste generated.

            Method of disposal is another important aspect in understanding the state of MSW in Maine. There are several ways in which non-recycled and recycled materials are dealt with. In Maine and nationwide, the three major disposal methods include incineration, landfill, and recycling23. Very different implications result from each of the various methods. Data confirm the quantity of waste that fall into each category annually in Maine.

Another factor that must be considered is the MSW that is transported across our state boundary. Although this number composes a relatively small proportion of the state’s total MSW, changes in the amount of waste imported and exported are important. For example, trends that demonstrate an increase in imported waste would be important to consider when determining the reason for greater quantities of MSW in Maine. Additional recycling efforts aimed at the population living within Maine would not have an influence upon these numbers.

Recycled materials are broken into more specific subcategories of paper, plastic and glass. By identifying specific recyclables that have lower recycling rates than others, these materials can be better targeted for improved management. Environmental education programs, increased availability of recycling stations, and the implementation of economic incentives for recycling are all efforts Maine has taken to improve recycling rates.

Maine ranks among the top 20 percent of states in the US based on the percent of total MSW recycled, yet the state is still striving to reach even higher levels24. The 50 percent recycling rate set by The Waste Management and Recycling Program of the State of Maine has not yet been reached, but ongoing efforts are designed to help reach the state meet this goal. Maine is one of the pioneer states in attempting to reach such high levels of recycling participation.          

Indicator 1: Waste Management Method

There are a total of eight municipally operated landfills that accept MSW. Additionally, there are currently four incinerators that accept MSW in Maine25.

Maine manages most of its waste through recycling, landfill, or incineration. A fourth method that accounts for only 4.2 percent of MSW disposal is exportation. As displayed in Figure 2, in 2001, recycling accounted for 37.3 percent of MSW, incineration for 35.1 percent, and landfilled materials for 23.4 percent of MSW in Maine26.


Figure 2 shows the percent of MSW imported into Maine annually. Landfills and incineration facilities in Maine received nearly 219,000 tons of MSW from out-of-state in 2001. This is a 30 percent increase from the quantity of MSW imported two years previously in 1999.  In comparison, the quantity of MSW exported in 2001 was a significantly smaller number of 78,000 tons26.

 The quantity of MSW imported and exported annually in Maine is represented in Figure 3. The amount of waste imported is increasing, while the amount exported is decreasing. Imported waste increased from approximately 153,000 tons to 219,000 tons, while exported waste decreased from approximately 89,000 tons to 78,000 tons26. This is one factor driving up the total quantity of MSW disposed of annually in Maine. If this trend continues along the same trajectory in the future, Maine will be responsible for managing greater quantities of out-of-state waste.





Indicator 2:  Amount of MSW Generated in Maine

The quantity of MSW disposed of in Maine is steadily increasing over time. As shown in Figure 4, disposed waste has increased from 782,556 tons in 1995 to 1,156,244 tons in 2001. This is a 32 percent increase. The quantity of waste recycled has increased as well, but at a slower rate. The gap between quantity of waste disposed and quantity of waste recycled is widening as more waste is sent to incinerators and landfills across the state26.

From 1993 to 1997, the amount of waste recycled in Maine increased 258,513 tons, or 38 percent. During this period, there was a steady increase from 421,365 tons to 679,878 tons of waste recycled in Maine annually. Then, in 1997, the quantity began to plateau, increasing only about 8,000 tons, or 1.2 percent, over the next four year period. The quantity of MSW recycled in Maine remains at a stable level26.

Indicator 3: Categories of Recyclables

Three major recycling categories include paper, plastic and glass. Each of these materials can be made into new products, therefore using less energy to produce brand new materials. Access to recycling programs, applied economic incentives, and community environmental education programs are ways in which the state of Maine encourages citizens to recycle MSW. Each of these tactics has experienced varying degrees of participation. Overall, those communities that offer at least one of these strategies have a better rate of recycling than communities that do not.

The number of communities with access to recycling has increased over the past decade, which may explain the increased rate of participation. In 2001, 40 percent of Maine’s population had access to curbside recycling programs through either municipal employees or municipally-contracted services. In addition to curbside pick up, many Maine communities have drop off sites that accept materials from wood to cardboard26.

Paper composes the majority of materials recycled, a quantity that increases annually. Figure 5 displays the trend in paper recycling from 1993 to 2001. This steady increase over time is similar to the trend displayed by total recycling rates. Also comparable to the total is the steeper increase prior to 1997, followed by a leveling off.  Despite less annually growth in the past 7 years, the quantity of paper recycled is still slowly increasing26.

Figure 6 suggests that glass recycling is decreasing, which is opposite from the increase observed with paper in Figure 5. In 1993, the state recycled 5,500 tons of glass, yet by 2001 this number had decreased to about 3,500 tons. This could be due to less packaging with glass, and therefore less glass being consumed and disposed of26.

The total quantity of plastics recycled neither increased or decreased strongly from 1993 to 2001. However, Figure 7 shows an overall increase in the quantity of glass recycled. The increase is occurring at a relatively slow rate compared to papers.

Economic incentives such as the Pay-As-You-Throw system have become more widespread in recent years. Citizens in 129 communities, which is 23 percent of Maine’s population, have a Pay-As-You-Throw trash disposal system. Residents are required to pay for the amount of waste they produce, which provides incentive to produce less waste.  A survey conducted by the Maine State Planning Office reported that recycling rates doubled and total amount of solid waste generated decreased substantially in many Maine towns such as Belfast, Kennebunkport, Holden, Durham, and Unity that implemented the Pat-As-You-Throw program19.

            Problems did arise, however, with the implementation of the Pay-As-You-Throw system. There was a slight increase in illegal dumping, due to the increase in cost of disposing of waste properly. Additionally, 9 of the participating towns reported overstuffing of bags to be a problem with the system. Instead of filling bags to a natural capacity, residents have an incentive to place as much waste as possible in a bag to decrease personal costs.

The bottle bill is another economic incentive designed to increase bottle recycling. A refundable deposit included within the price of a beverage is returned to the consumer when the empty container is returned at a collection facility.  In Maine, there have been several positive effects of the bottle bill. The environment has benefited due to a decreased amount of litter. Beverage container litter was reduced by 69 percent to 77 percent when the bottle bill initiative was enacted in 1979. The Maine Department of Transportation estimated that some parks had reduced beverage container litter by as much as 90 percent due to the bottle bill23.


Indicator 4: Landfill Capacity

            The remaining disposal capacity in landfills is decreasing. As shown in Figure 8, the remaining life expectancy depends on the landfill, yet cumulatively, the average time remaining in landfills in Maine is 16.25 years. This means that based upon current rates of MSW disposal, Maine’s current landfills will reach capacity in the year 202023.


Table 1: Remaining capacity in cubic yards and estimated number of years in Maine’s eight MSW landfills23               


Remaining Capacity Cubic Yards











Hatch Hill






Presque Isle






West Forks







            Current landfills have already undergone expansions to accommodate additional waste. Expansions will occur in the future to landfills that can structurally support modification. It will also be necessary in the future to create new landfill space. To prevent the need for several additional landfills, it is important to minimize the amount of waste for landfills as much as possible through efforts such as recycling.


According to the Waste Management and Recycling Program in Maine, “The state has a fairly consistent solid waste management program, steadied upon two commercial landfills, eight municipal landfills, four incinerators, and strong public and private recycling efforts.” Although Maine is one of the leading states in addressing the issue of MSW, there are many improvements that could be made23.

            While it is often more simple from a management standpoint to address waste once it is generated, policies that focus on reducing consumption would have a dramatic impact on the recyclable and non-recyclable waste generated. Environmentally friendly packaging and encouraging the reuse of products in their original form would cut down on the amount of new MSW entering the waste stream. Encouraging overall consumption reduction is another way in which policy makers could address the issue. Approaching management exclusively from the disposal of MSW limits options for reduction in waste quantity. Recycling alone is not enough; Maine must address waste from the production aspect as well.

            Financial support must be given by the state to fund the local projects and initiatives necessary to reduce disposed MSW. Without financial backing, programs such as community education or the development of additional recycling facilities would be impossible. To achieve the state goal of increased recycling, improvements must be made to the current system such as the implementation of Pay-As-You-Throw initiatives in more Maine towns, or the addition of more recycling facilities for easier access. Each of these requires ongoing management and funding.

            Overall, the state of municipal solid waste disposal is relatively good in Maine. The issue is addressed by the state as important enough to receive funding and attention from the Maine government. There are no major problems with the system as it exists today. However, if MSW continues to be generated at the current rate, problems with disposal will arise in the near future as landfills reach capacity and the state is faced with the need to dispose of waste by alternate means.



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14.        Maine State Planning Office. General Waste Management and Recycling Statutes: Subchapter 3. accessed 11/28/04 (2004).

15.        Department of Environmental Protection: Maine Government. Toxics and Hazardous Waste Reduction. accessed 11/11/04 (2004).

16.        Environmental Protection Agency. Overview of Executive Orders Affecting Federal Facilities. 12/08/04 (2004).

17.        Environmental Protection Agency. Bring-your-own-bag: Questions About Your Community. accessed 12/04/04 (2003).

18.        Container Recycling Institute. Bottle Bills at a Glance: Maine. accessed 11/22/04 (2004).

19.        Maine State Planning Office. Pay-As-You-Throw Resources. accessed 11/18/04 (2004).

20.        Maine State Planning Office. State of Maine Waste Management and Recycling Plan. accessed 11/16/04 (1998).

21.        Maine State Planning Office. Composting. accessed 11/16/04 (2004).

22.        Maine State Planning Office. Waste Management Services Directory. accessed 11/16/04 (2004).

23.        Maine State Planning Office. Municipal Data. accessed 12/06/04 (2004).

24.        Environmental Protection Agency. MSW Facts and Figures: State MSW Data. accessed 12/09/04 (1999).

25.        Environmental Protection Agency. Number of Landfills in Each State. accessed 12/05/04 (2004).

26.        Maine State Planning Office. 2001 Solid Waste Generation and Disposal Capacity Report to the Joint Standing Committee on Natural Resources of the 121st Legislature. accessed 11/01/04 (2001).





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