Keeping basketballs, bedding, boots, and other bits of trash out of recycling materials earned recognition for a group of employees of the Three-Town Solid Waste Cooperative in South Thomaston.

The cooperative, which handles waste management and recycling for Thomaston, South Thomaston and Owls Head, along with its partner firm, ecomaine, recognized transfer station Program Manager Reggie Vokes and employees John Jacques, Dave MacNeill, and Rick Fales on January 17.

Bruce Colson, chairman of the cooperative board, explained that loads of material are sent each week to waste and recycling processing facilities in South Portland and Scarborough owned by ecomaine, which commenced a contract with the transfer station in April.

The employees of the Three-Town Cooperative, also known as the OHSTT Solid Waste Corporation, were commended for ensuring the station on Buttermilk Lane in South Thomaston transported “clean” loads of recycling to ecomaine between May and November.

Lissa Bitterman, business development manager of ecomaine, explained a clean load includes five percent or less of items beyond the corrugated cardboard, mixed paper, glass, metal and plastic containers recycled by ecomaine.

“Anything outside of those are what we would consider contamination,” Bitterman said. She noted that “random bits,” such as clothing, balls, shoes, food, and even Christmas tree lights, are among the trash mixed in with recycling that frequently puts loads above the 5-percent threshold tolerated by the global market of companies and countries that purchase recycled material.

The OHSTT employees scour the recycling so thoroughly that the station routinely produces loads with contamination of zero to 1 percent. “It’s exceptional,” Bitterman said. “Some of the cleanest material we receive down at ecomaine.”

Bitterman presented Vokes, Jacques and MacNeill — Fales was absent — with certificates and gift bags containing items made from recycled content. “It’s very commendable what you’ve been able to accomplish,” she said.

Colson noted the employees have helped avert the extra expense of disposing of material that tops the 5 percent contamination level. “These guys have done a tremendous job keeping the costs down for the taxpayers of the three towns,” he said. “You wouldn’t believe the thousands of dollars they’ve probably saved them already.”

Bitterman said that ecomaine operates a “waste to energy” plant that burns trash to create fuel, but the company strives to follow the “waste hierarchy” mandated by Maine statute and recommended by the Environmental Protection Agency that puts “reduce, reuse and recycle” above repurposing trash into fuel. Receiving more clean loads of recycling, rather than trash, assists in that effort, she said.

“When we’re getting loads from these communities and they’re coming in virtually pristine, it allows all those materials to be recovered and to be out in the market over and over again and be made into new items,” Bitterman said. “That’s really the ideal way to treat these materials.”

Between April 1 and January 16, the Thomaston transfer station sent slightly more than 106 tons of recycling material to ecomaine, Bitterman said.

Additionally, each year the station generates about 3,400 tons of municipal solid waste, better known as household trash.

Colson also recognized Thomaston Recycling, Inc., and its owner Scott Johnson, for “outstanding service” to the transfer station. Johnson was represented at the ceremony by his wife, Thomaston Select Board member Beverly St. Clair.

“This is a great crew,” St. Clair said of the recycling staff. “We all work in sync and that’s a key element to keeping that trash flowing and keeping business going.”

Owls Head Selectman Gordon Page commended the members of the recycling team for their work ethic and “strong interest in doing a good job, as opposed to doing a job.”

South Thomaston Select Board member Cheryl Waterman also attended the ceremony along with OHSTT board member and South Thomaston Selectman Walter Reitz.

“When you serve the public you’re never going to have a hundred percent customer satisfaction,” Reitz said. “But the level of positive feedback that we’re getting because of how helpful, effective and polite you guys are… you have a high level of increased customer satisfaction far and beyond anything that’s happened in this facility for as long as I’ve been in town.”

MacNeill said the residents of the three towns make his work at the transfer station “a lot easier.”

“There’s a majority of people that do a great job of recycling, and they take pride, and we make it a point to thank them,” MacNeill said. “And we take pride in having a low percentage of contamination, too.”

For more information about the station’s recyclable items, visit www.town.thomaston.me.us or www.ecomaine.org.