2017-09-01 / Community

Officials look at trends in disposal of food waste

By Michael Kelley
Staff Writer

SOUTH PORTLAND – While the town of Scarborough will end its pilot compost collection program in the Pleasant Hill neighborhood 140 days early after getting the data and feedback needed to determine there is interest among the community for curbside compost pickup, a pilot program in South Portland is continuing on for another eight months.

Julie Rosenbach, South Portland’s sustainability director, said the city’s food waste curbside collection pilot program, taking place in the Knightville area and much of the neighborhood between Ocean Street, Highland Avenue, South Richland Street and the Cape Elizabeth line, is working well and will continue through May 2018.

“Our program is different from them. They didn’t have to change any existing contracts,” Rosenbach said of Scarborough’s approach. “We did a hauling contract for a year, so ours is continuing on. They were really just two different models. We haven’t had any problems yet.”

While the systems differ, like Scarborough, South Portland is using the program to see if curbside compost collection is a viable way to reduce municipal solid waste. The city has set a goal of reducing 40 percent of solid waste through composting, reuse and recycling.

Those residents who don’t live in the pilot area can drop off food waste at the municipal transfer station at 929 Highland Ave. Backyard composting bins are also available through the public works department.

The food waste collection system, if, and when it is adopted city wide, may look different than it does now, Rosenbach said.

“Food waste collection is absolutely coming,” Rosenbach said. “How do we do it and when do we roll it out, those are the questions we will have to answer.”

Scarborough Sustainability Coordinator Kerry Grantham said the town has the data and feedback it needs and will end the pilot program five months early.

“We had really good data collection and we had a lot of feedback,” Grantham said. “The data is telling us people are interested in a food waste recycling, or compost, program, but alternating trash and recycling pickup was tough on some families in the pilot area.”

The goal of the pilot program was aimed at reducing solid waste, which, as a result would lessen the amount of money the town has to pay ecomaine to process municipal waste. Since ecomaine charges more to take on municipal solid waste than recycling or compost, a town-wide compost collection program could result in a reduction in the solid waste budget.

The pilot program started May 11 in a 260-household neighborhood in the Pleasant Hill section of town and was set to wrap up Thursday, Jan. 25, 2018, after which time the town was going to crunch the data and to make a decision to either adopt the program townwide or not. While Grantham and representatives from ecomaine and University of Southern Maine students are still pouring through the data, she said it is clear that many residents, even outside the pilot program area, are interested in compost collection. Even if they didn’t live in the area of Pleasant Hill where the pilot was taking place, residents were encouraged to drop off food scraps and other food waste materials at three satellite locations in town: Maine Veterans’ Home on Route 1, Walmart on Gallery Boulevard and Pine Tree Waste on Pleasant Hill Road. Those bins were first made available shortly before the pilot program was launched.

“With the drop off posts for the folks that live outside the pilot area, we found a 93 percent increase in usage there. We understand town wide there are people interested in it and we think it makes a lot of sense to maintain those drop off points,” Grantham said.

Over the course of the 16-weeks the pilot operated, more than 17,000 pounds of compost material was diverted from the waste stream. Grantham said going into the pilot, the goal was to divert a ton of compost material a week, but the program has averaged closer to three-fourths of a ton a week.

While Grantham heard from 150 people in the pilot area via phone call or email, she is still looking to hear from residents as to what worked well and what didn’t. A survey was mailed to every household in the pilot area and an electronic version has been placed on the sustainability section of the town’s website. Grantham said she is eager to look at feedback, which she would like to receive by the end of September at the latest.

Sometime this fall, she will share that feedback and the take away from the program to the council, which will decide how to proceed with compost collection. A date has not been set yet.

“The model of alternating trash and recycling pickup is likely not a good model for how we do residential pickup,” Grantham said. “We are still interested in food waste diversion and want to keep our eyes open to a pilot that may look different in a different part of town.”

The program got a mixed reaction among the 260 households in the neighborhood, in part due to the collection schedule in which recycling and solid waste was picked up every other week and food waste every week.

Jim Baron, a resident of Powderhorn Drive told the Sentry earlier this year the schedule didn’t work for him.

“I am definitely not thrilled with the change because it feels we are in pursuit of a very small amount of trash (compostable materials) that gets picked up every week and the larger items of the recycling and other trash is not picked up every week,” he said at the time.

This schedule, Baron and other neighbors have said, results in overflowing recycling and solid waste containers, an attractive element for sea gulls, foxes and other animals that forage for food.

Grantham told the Sentry in May the schedule was set up so Scarborough could launch the pilot program within the confines of its existing contract with Pine Tree Waste, which hauls recycling, solid waste and compost materials to ecomaine and since the trucks only have two compartments, they can only collect two of the three each week. Compostable material, which includes food scraps, paper napkins, coffee grounds, fats, oils and greases, seashells and bones, were chosen for the weekly collection because they tend to get odorous if not attended to.

The program seemed to work well for Minuteman Drive resident Tricia Dow.

“While I was reluctant at first, it has been working well for us,” she emailed the Sentry in May. “We are vigilant in breaking down all recycling so while the barrel is quite full by week two, (the schedule) works. Getting used to the garbage bin versus our garbage disposer took a conscience effort, but is now automatic. We are a family of four with one dog.”

Grantham said Scarborough’s decision does not impact a pilot food waste collection program that South Portland launched in conjunction with Scarborough’s program. South Portland’s program operates differently in that the city has hired Garbage to Garden to haul away food waste weekly while Pine Tree Waste handles the weekly solid waste and recycling pickups.

“This doesn’t impact South Portland at all. The decision is up to each municipality. Because we have such different approaches, there is not an impact from our decision.”

Staff Writer Michael Kelley can be reached at 282- 4337, ext. 237.

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