Last spring Evan Coleman, a then-high school junior from Montville, invited nine area towns to give up their established recycling programs and try a new system that he said would encourage more people to recycle and save the towns money in the process.

Only one – Monroe – took him up on it. And during the three months since the program started, the response has far exceeded Coleman’s intentionally conservative projections.

Residents have embraced the new system so completely that officials are considering getting a second dumpster or a compactor for the town’s transfer station to deal with the influx of materials. Early returns suggest Monroe is on track to double its recycling rate this year and potentially save a barrel of money in the process.

So why aren’t more towns coming aboard?

Single-stream recycling, also known as single-sort, fully-commingled, is barely a decade old and has only been around in Maine for about five years. As the name suggests, cardboard, cans, numbered plastics, newsprint, and a host of other recyclable materials all go in one container, which is then shipped to a processing facility where the materials are sorted and cleaned by a combination of high-tech machinery and human line workers. Proponents say its simplicity leads to higher recycling rates. Opponents argue that writing consumers out of the equation leads to a less informed populace who will buy products without concern for whether or not they can be recycled.

Monroe’s recyclables are processed by ecomaine, a nonprofit waste management company based in Southern Maine with 21-member towns and 18 others contracting from outside the region and a processing facility in Portland. Ecomaine is one of two companies offering single-stream recycling in Maine, the other being Casella Pine Tree Waste, with which two Waldo County municipalities — Northport and Islesboro — and a number of businesses hold contracts. Casella operates a sorting facility in Massachusetts similar to ecomaine’s.

Coleman got interested in single-stream recycling after attending Montville Town Meeting in 2010, at which he recalled being shocked by the amount of money the town was paying into Unity Area Regional Recycling Center (UARRC), a cooperatively-owned facility in Thorndike, of which Montville is one of nine member towns.

“I thought there must be a better way,” he said.

He researched the topic and eventually entered into conversations with ecomaine and with a local garbage hauler. Using municipal documentation and figures from UARRC, he gauged the potential costs and benefits for eight of the nine member towns and presented them, one-by-one, to town officials for consideration. Most of the towns would save some money, he found; one or two wouldn’t, and a handful stood to save a lot.

Perhaps ironically, given his initial inspiration, Montville turned him down almost immediately, though an official recently said the town might consider single-stream again in the future.

The other UARRC towns mostly dismissed his ideas, and among some the reception was openly hostile.

Some officials saw Coleman as a fly-by-night salesman, and balked at his consulting fee of $5,000. But Coleman rejected the idea, defending the amount of work required to negotiate the contracts between towns, haulers and ecomaine.

A clause in his contract withholds his fee until the program has been in place for a period of time and has hit its marks. But many were skeptical.

“So far we haven’t heard or seen anything that we were interested in,” said Thorndike Selectman James Bennett, who said his town is not considering moving to single-stream recycling. Comments from other officials suggested that single-stream recycling was, at best, on the back burner.

When Coleman first approached the towns, he had no experience in the waste management industry, and he was arguably young enough to raise eyebrows. But a bigger factor in the poor reception he got among UARRC towns has been UARRC itself.

Founded in 1991, the facility, located in an unassuming steel-frame building in Thorndike, accepts a wider range of materials than any other facility in Waldo County and seems to expand its capacity each year.

The operating costs are divided among the nine member towns on a per capita basis and returns from the sale of recyclables, also figured per capita, are returned to the towns as credits.

According to UARRC Facility’s Manager Aaron Paul, the system in place at UARRC works better than single-stream because the process is done manually. Residents sort their own recyclables and the center’s three full-time, and one part-time, staff members weed out anything that doesn’t belong, leading to a cleaner product that can be resold at a higher price.

At both ecomaine and UARRC the goal is to end up with a contaminant-free product. The single-stream process, however, is new enough that it has spurred the sort of man-versus-machine debates that have characterized new technological developments for hundreds of years, in areas from industry to artificial intelligence.

The reported contamination rate at ecomaine hovers around 5 percent. Asked about the contamination rate at UARRC, Paul’s decidedly human estimate also evidenced a pride in his work.

“I would say darned near zero,” he said.

The concern over contamination has caught the attention of some town officials, including Dixmont First Selectwoman Judy Dann, who heard manual sorting was better in that regard.

Dann said she also doubts switching to single-stream would raise recycling rates in a town where many residents use backyard dumpsters.

“I don’t think single-stream recycling is going to change those folks minds at all. I think they’re still going to use their backyard dumpsters. And I think the people who do recycle are pretty religious about it and don’t mind sorting. That’s just become a part of their routine,” she said.

A larger concern – echoed by other town officials and Paul of UARRC – is that if one town pulled out of the cooperative, the loss of revenue would shift operating expenses to other towns. According to Paul, the loss of one town would likely force the facility to close.

“We really didn’t want to dismantle that relationship unless all the other towns were gonna go that route,” said Dann. “I’m keeping an open mind, and if a lot of the other towns decide that’s the way they’re going to go, they probably we will too. We’ll have to.”

Other officials from UARRC member towns and members of the facility’s board of directors were curious enough, however, to ask that Paul request a cost benefit analysis from ecomaine, who has started the process, with some reluctance.

“I’m not advocating this at all, but in my position here I’ve got to provide the information these folks want,” he said.

For Monroe, the decision to move to single-stream was less complicated, but took a leap of faith, nonetheless.

Monroe Selectboard member Jacki Robbins said the town considered joining UARRC but found that the buy-in price was too high — according to Paul of UARRC it would have cost Monroe around $20,000, a fee that includes the first year’s worth of operating costs. The original member towns paid less than that amount between them when the center opened in 1991, due to a grant that helped establish the facility.

Other options seemed complicated by the fact that those providing the information always seemed to have a measure of self-interest and while she regarded Coleman’s proposal with skepticism, his numbers looked solid.

“After he left, we were talking and later on I thought, what’s holding me back?,” she said. “Well, he’s young and hasn’t had that much experience. But he was telling us more than anybody had told us before.”

In addition to serving on the Monroe Selectboard, Robbins has worked as an assessor for a number of other towns for years, and she recalled how, when she first started, the town of Jackson hired her with relatively little experience.

“So just because he doesn’t have many towns signed up, that’s not a reason not to do it, and number two, his age is really not a reason not to do it. So if you can overlook those and really listen to what he says, he really knows what he’s talking about,” she said.

In conversation, Coleman is gracious, soft-spoken and articulate. He is also direct in a way that suggests the kind of unvarnished confidence of someone who knows what he is talking about. He quickly cites figures from individual towns and makes quick changes to the computations in his head. In most respects, it is easy to forget that he is a kid.

Growing up, Coleman said he had family role models in a variety of businesses, from home construction to high-level executive positions, and he said he learned valuable lessons from this exposure.

“How you work with people; how you treat people and being fair in what you do,” he said.

United Energy, the one-man company under which he does his recycling consulting, is not his first business. When he was younger, he had a landscaping business, and started a technology company that he abandoned in his sophomore year of high school.

“I’ve been more successful in business than a lot of people my age,” he said, without a trace of boasting. “It’s a comment I get at school a lot: Why do you do this?”

Among his inspirations, he cites longtime Unitel president and Unity College founder Bert Clifford and Charles Cawley the munificent CEO of MBNA — businessmen who weren’t afraid to venture into uncharted territory.

“Nobody made Microsoft before Bill Gates,” he said. “It’s one of those things. We’re a country where we charter new waters, and that’s what makes us great.”

In the short term, Coleman is expanding his consultancy to private businesses and management of organic waste. He said he hopes to go to college.

Asked about his long term goals, he said he hopes to bring industry back to Maine and views the state as a potential model for other states. He also talked soberly about expanding his business into something national or international.

Coleman said the downside to his proposal for UARRC towns is that some or all of the employees at the facility would lose their jobs.

“Unfortunately, change is something that can be for the good but it means taking a chance,” he said.

As a compromise, he has since developed a proposal that would convert the recycling center to a drop off point for single-stream recycling. The amended plan would keep the facility open, but Coleman said there could still be some layoffs.

“The recycling center has been a great system for the community for many years but as we progress as a society we have to keep up with what other areas have, as well as being fiscally conservative, and single-stream meets those need,” he said.

And if UARRC scoops him on the single-stream and goes directly through ecomaine?

Coleman paused.

“I guess that’s capitalism,” he said.