Scarborough food waste-reduction project fails real-world test

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SCARBOROUGH — Based on preliminary results from a pilot food waste collection program, the town is unlikely to roll out the program town-wide.

But although residential pick-up service will be discontinued, Sustainability Coordinator Kerry Strout Grantham said, food waste will continue to be collected at several locations. Scarborough will also continue to work on food waste diversion efforts.

Scarborough and South Portland each launched food waste disposal programs in May. While Scarborough’s pilot wrapped up earlier this month, pick-up continues in South Portland, where a year-long pilot program is being conducted.

Both communities participated in similar programs that began the week of May 7 during Maine Composts Week and International Compost Awareness Week. Each municipality had food waste picked up in a designated area at no cost to residents. Drop-off locations were also provided. The waste was transported to ecomaine, where it was weighed for tipping fees and study purposes.

The organic waste was delivered to Exeter Agri-Energy in Exeter and combined with cow manure in an anaerobic digester. The machine converts the matter into electricity, as well as a liquid by-product for fertilizer, and a solid material for animal bedding or compost.

But the programs differed in the way they were administered.

About 150 residents in the Pleasant Hill neighborhood received weekly pickup, but had trash and recycling picked up on alternate weeks by Pine Tree Waste.

Grantham said the program wrapped up on Sept. 7 and the office is in “data analysis mode.” She said she will be presenting the results to the Town Council after the results have been finalized.

The town conducted a survey prior to the pilot project and at the conclusion, and preliminary data showed many residents disliked alternating between trash and recycling.

Grantham said the message was the schedule was challenging: even residents who liked the program did not like alternating weeks.

“Some residents relayed that they found the process burdensome,” Grantham said. “What we modeled in the Pleasant Hill neighborhood will not likely roll out town-wide, but they are thinking of other ways to divert (food waste).”

According to early numbers, the town diverted more than 17,000 pounds of food from its garbage.

Grantham said the town was hoping to divert 1 ton of food waste per week, but on average saw three-quarters of a ton each week.

Grantham said there is a cost savings that comes with diverting food scraps: the town pays average tipping fees of $70.50 per ton for municipal solid waste disposal and only $55 per ton for food.

“There is a $15 savings that can add up,” Grantham said. “It is savings over time that can offset our increasing municipal disposal fees.”

From the surveys, Grantham received many antidotes from families, some of whom said it was difficult at first, but once a system was put into place it became easy. Families said they also saw a decrease in their volume of garbage.

Grantham said over the life of the pilot program the town saw a large increase in residents dropping off food waste at three drop-off locations set up in the town that residents can still visit: Pine Tree Waste at 87 Pleasant Hill Road, Maine Veterans’ Home at 290 U.S. Route 1, and Wal-Mart at 500 Gallery Blvd.

Grantham said the town has added one extra cart to the two carts at the Pleasant Hill location to serve residents in the neighborhood who still want to divert their food waste.

She said the pilot program also revealed the need for larger recycling containers. The town is offering 96-gallon recycling carts to new homeowners and to residents who request them; the 64-gallon carts now being used will still be available for residents who don’t need the larger alternative.

South Portland

Nearly 600 households are still being served by the one-year program in South Portland, which includes parts of the Knightville and Meetinghouse Hill neighborhoods.

Residents in the pilot program place a 6-gallon bin for food waste alongside their trash and recycling bins for weekly for pick-up by Garbage to Garden.

Additional bins are set up at the transfer station on Highland Avenue for other residents who want to participate.

Julie Rosenbach, South Portland’s sustainability coordinator, said the program is going well.

“People are really excited about it. We haven’t had a negative response at all,” said Rosenbach. “People love it.”

She said she is working on some metrics and will present preliminary data to the City Council in the next month or two.

Melanie Sochan can be reached at 781-3661 ext.106 or Follow her on Twitter @melaniesochan.