When Fiberight closed its waste recycling center in Hampden last June, it stuck some affiliated municipalities, including Belfast, with steep costs for waste transportation to other facilities. The Belfast Transfer Station is not receiving the promised reimbursements, either, Station Manager Mike McFadden said.

The contract between Belfast and the Municipal Review Committee, a nonprofit group formed by 115 municipalities to manage their solid waste issues, determines where the city disposes of its waste. Trash was being transported to Fiberight for about $290 per load, but now it goes to a landfill in Norridgewock for $628 per load, McFadden said.

Fiberight was supposed to pay up to $150 per load of the increased transportation cost, but McFadden said the station has not received any reimbursements. The increased cost is a “fact of life,” he said, and the station has to “take it on the chin,” because it is bound by a contract.

MRC Executive Director Michael Carroll told The Republican Journal in an email that the reimbursement is paid directly to the transportation company, but did not have specific information about the Belfast station to confirm whether it has been receiving transportation reimbursements.

McFadden said recycling is also costly. The station stopped accepting mixed paper and mixed plastic because it costs more to recycle the material than can be covered by station revenues.

It is still accepting cardboard, newspaper, glass, tin cans and number two plastic because those items cost less to recycle, he said. Stations used to make a profit from selling recyclable materials, but international trade issues have caused the market to plummet. The station is not able to sell materials right now.

McFadden thinks if he reworks the budget, the station will be able to afford to recycle mixed plastic because it receives only a small amount. But the higher volume of mixed paper it receives is an issue he might have to consider longer.

He said as long as the station is at least breaking even there is not a problem, but if expenses increase beyond its current budget, recycling will become impractical.

The public’s philosophical belief in recycling often clashes with the financial practicality of the practice, he said. Much of the waste the station receives is packaging, and if there were less packaging waste, recycling might cost less.

“The complexities are how to get rid of these things in a fiscally and environmentally responsible way,” he said. “And right now it’s like trying to mesh two different gears.”

McFadden hopes the station will not have to increase its fees, but if the Fiberight closure is not resolved, it will force him to make difficult financial decisions, he said. But he does not know what that will look like because trucking costs have been volatile. If transportation costs stabilized, it would be easier to find financial solutions, he added.

One way to stabilize costs might be for the station to operate its own trucks, he said, but the initial investment in equipment would be steep and unnecessary if Fiberight reopens. It would solve all the station’s problems if the MRC could find a company to buy the Hampden facility.

He does not think the issues with Fiberight “will be solved the way everyone wants it to be,” he said, but he has confidence in the MRC team to find a solution. “I think people should not lose faith,” he said. “We’ll figure something out.”

Carroll said the MRC had received an offer from at least one bidder recently, but would not disclose any more information. He refused to comment about “a hypothetical situation” where the MRC does not find a suitable operator and the facility is permanently closed.

“The MRC has always proactively addressed the needs of its members, and that will continue,” he said in an email. “Our goal has always been and remains ensuring affordable, long-term, and environmentally sound disposal of MSW (municipal solid waste).”

After reviewing the bidder's financial capability, industry expertise and ability to operate the plant, facility bondholders will make a decision on the proposal, he said. The MRC hopes that an offer is accepted in the next few weeks, and if that happens the facility could open again as early as 2021.

In the meantime, the Belfast Transfer Station will start accepting mixed plastic again Oct. 22, City Manager Erin Herbig announced at a recent City Council meeting.