The handling of waste has changed through the generations as our knowledge, technology, and economic well-being has improved. As a necessary consequence of the production and consumption of food, consumer goods and other products, our society generates a substantial volume of material. Most of this material is ultimately discarded and requires collection, reuse, recycling or disposal.

This report summarizes and discusses the results of two 2011 waste sorts conducted on Maine residential waste and makes comparisons with previous research. It includes comments on the relative ease of recycling or composting various materials.

Procedure

Municipality Selection

Seventeen municipal waste programs, representing a wide range of community size, geographic location and solid waste program type, were selected to participate in this study. This sample represents 12 of Maine’s 16 counties and approximately 11 percent of the state’s total population. Most of the waste programs selected service an individual town or city, though some represent more than one municipality.

Eight of the municipalities had full or partial curbside garbage collection, and eight also had curbside collection of recyclables. Some of the municipalities had pay-as-you-throw (PAYT) programs in which residents pay for each bag of trash they discard. Three participating municipalities used single-stream recyclable collection.

Waste Sample Selection

The waste sample selection process was designed to ensure as much random selection as possible, while matching the collection system used by each municipality. At facilities where residents dropped off their garbage, the project team requested that every nth individual include their trash in the sample. The number between individuals sampled (n) was determined by the expected amount of total trash that would be dropped off that day, as predicted by the site’s facility manager. In municipalities where trash was collected curbside, an attempt was made to select from multiple neighborhoods, and again, trash from every nth household was collected. Usually this was from residences at least five houses apart. In total, ten tons of trash were collected and sorted.

Waste Composition

The waste examined in this study is typical of what would be found in a regular 30-gallon plastic trash bag and does not include larger “bulky” items such as furniture, appliances, car tires and corrugated cardboard boxes. This non-bulky waste stream is often referred to as “baggable trash.”

The project team sorted the baggable trash into nine major categories and more than 60 subcategories. These classifications correspond to those used by other states in recent waste characterization studies, allowing for possible comparisons. As is the convention with waste management studies, all measurements were made by weight.