Recycling programs are under stress worldwide, as low commodity prices and environmental initiatives in China increase costs for municipalities. These challenges are being felt acutely in Auburn Maine, a small city which has long struggled with recycling; its recycling rate is currently less than one-fifth of the 40% statewide recycling rate. To address the twin challenges of increasing costs and a low recycling rate, the Auburn City Council created a recycling committee, which was tasked with evaluating recycling options for the city. Part of this evaluation involves a greenhouse gas lifecycle analysis of waste-to-energy incineration versus recycling of the city’s waste. We were tasked with conducting this analysis and helping the city develop a balanced waste management strategy which considers both economic and environmental impacts under several waste management scenarios. Using costs and greenhouse gas emissions as key metrics of comparison, our analysis developed four waste management scenarios, each of which assumes that different amounts of waste will be sent to waste-to-energy incineration, recycling, and composting, costs different amounts of money, and results in different levels of greenhouse gas emissions. Auburn’s current waste management strategy costs about $1.1 million and results in 9000 tons CO2e emissions per year. Expanding recycling would cost an additional $75,000, reduce emissions by more than 75%, and increase Auburn’s recycling rate from 8% to an estimated 30%. Expanding recycling and adding a composting program would cost an additional $225,000 over current costs but could result in net-negative emissions. Replacing the city’s recycling program with a composting program would cost about $50,000 less than the current strategy and result in an approximately 10% reduction in emissions. Eliminating recycling would cost Auburn about $150,000 less than the current strategy but increase emissions by about 20% to 10,500 tons CO2e per year. Based on our analyses, we recommend that Auburn continues and expands its recycling program through a new contract with EcoMaine, considers implementing a composting program with a local company such as We Compost It!, and implements an educational program to expand local knowledge of waste management best practices.
Gundersen, Lars and Giunta, Ryan, "Conducting a Greenhouse Gas Lifecycle Anlaysis of Waste-to-Energy Incineration versus Recycling in Auburn, Maine" (2020). Community Engaged Research Reports. 72.