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Portland business brings composting to the masses

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Portland business brings composting to the masses

PORTLAND — Tyler Frank believes garbage bags may someday be obsolete.

The Vesper Street resident is one of the founders of Garbage to Garden, a community-based curbside composting service that was launched last summer. For $11 a month, the service picks up food scraps from participating homes, works with an area farm to compost the waste into a high-quality form of soil, and then delivers as much of the finished product as members want.

By allowing residents to recycle organic waste, just as they recycle paper, glass and other materials, the waste stream can be dramatically reduced, according to Frank.

"Portland is already good at recycling, so the majority of what's left (in household waste) is food," he said. "When you take that out, there's practically zero waste. Can you imagine how little trash there would be if the whole city was doing this?"

While composting is not a new practice, it can be difficult for urban dwellers and even suburban residents to do well on their own. A compost heap takes up scarce yard space and often produces unpleasant odors. It takes months to properly "cook" the garbage. And it's usually impossible to compost meat scraps and some other types of organic matter.

GTG avoids those difficulties by allowing members to dispose of their food waste in large, secure buckets that are picked up each week and replaced with clean ones. And because GTG works with Benson Farm, a commercial composter in Gorham,  it can accept meat, bones and dairy waste.

Since starting GTG with a few friends, 12 buckets and a pickup truck, Frank said his business now serves about 1,000 households in Portland, South Portland, Cumberland, Falmouth and Yarmouth. He hopes to expand to other southern Maine towns if there is enough demand.

At the Portland Farmers' Market, which held its first summer market in Deering Oaks Park on April 27, GTG signed up nearly 40 new members in one day.

Mike Milliken, a West End resident, signed up in February.

"(GTG) makes a ton of sense in urban centers, where there's not a lot of room to compost," Milliken said. "And it just seems like the right thing to do. Why put these things in a landfill, when we can be putting them back in nature?"

Milliken estimates that he has reduced his household waste by more than half since he began using GTG's service. "That's been the most significant benefit I've noticed," he said. "There's a lot less trash each week."

GTG removes about 25 tons of garbage a month from the waste stream, Frank estimates.

To Frank, who grew up in North Yarmouth and whose family kept a compost heap, community composting is "an opportunity to make a big difference."

And unlike composting services in some cities, which charge expensive fees and market themselves as a high-end convenience, GTG is a community-based group that welcomes participation.

The organization has a modest facility on Riverside Street and does little advertising, in order to keep its fees low, Frank said. Members can even join for free by volunteering with GTG.

"My goal is to get people composting who otherwise probably wouldn't," he said. "This is important, and someday everyone will realize that."

William Hall can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or whall@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @hallwilliam4.