Some South Portland residents may be asked to recycle food waste

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SOUTH PORTLAND — In an effort to push the city toward a recycling rate of 40 percent by 2020, city councilors are considering a year-long trial of curbside composting.

South Portland’s recycling rate is 29 percent, “and I think food waste is the key,” Sustainability Coordinator Julie Rosenbach told councilors at a Nov. 14 workshop. Organic material, particularly food waste, makes up about 30 percent of the overall waste stream, she said. 

As a way to encourage recycling of food waste, Rosenbach has proposed the city conduct a curbside waste pick-up trial with nearly 600 households in the Meetinghouse Hill and Knightville neighborhoods.

The program would be conducted in collaboration with ecomaine and the company’s new anaerobic digestion composting service, which began earlier this fall

Participants would be provided with 6-gallon countertop buckets with lids and liners to collect kitchen scraps such as tea bags, coffee grounds and filters, and food waste – including meats, produce, grains and egg shells. 

The buckets would be set out the same day trash and recycling are collected. The organic matter would be collected and the buckets left for the next week’s organic waste. 

The material would be transported to ecomaine’s project partner, Exeter-based Agri-Energy and Agri-Cycle Energy, whose dairy farm includes closed tanks where the food will be composted and the gases released to be harnessed and reused.

Anaerobic digestion differs from regular backyard composting because it requires a moist organic material to help break down food waste – in this case, cow manure. The process is also done in a closed tank rather than in an open space to contain the gases, ecomaine CEO Kevin Roche said in September.

Conducting the trial for a year will allow the city to collect data on how much the service will affect the recycling rate, Rosenbach told councilors.

“We’re looking at uncovering two goals here,” she said. “To determine the viability of a city-wide program and, is this goal going to be effective to reach a goal of a 40 percent recycling rate by 2020.”

The estimated cost of the pilot program is $45,000-$71,000. The city would not charge residents for the buckets, but would have to hire a waste-hauling company to collect the material each week. 

Councilors at the workshop were mostly in favor of the program, agreeing that composting should be part of how citizens discard waste. But some had issues with the having to be transported more than 100 miles away for disposal.

Mayor Tom Blake said the amount of money it will cost the city to conduct a one-year trial run might be better spent on outreach efforts that teach residents about backyard composting. 

“I think there’s a better direction. It just seems to be a waste of resources to have a (truck) pick up the materials and drive 100 miles north … when this compost should never leave someone’s property,” Blake said. 

Other councilors suggested that if the purpose of the trial is to gauge both the financial viability and residents’ interest, why not conduct a trial run in city neighborhoods where backyard composting is not an option, or where participation in a composting program is less likely. 

“If the goal is to see how effective this is going to be to reduce waste streams,” wouldn’t it be a better for the city to test this pilot program in areas like the Olde English Village apartments, “where they really don’t have any (composting) options at all,” Councilor Eben Rose said. 

Councilor Claude Morgan agreed. “I think the real test is to find the virgin area where folks really are not engaged” in utilizing recycling services, he said. 

The proposal is slated for a first reading Monday, Nov. 21. If the pilot program is approved, the goal is to start the trial next April. 

Alex Acquisto can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or Follow Alex on Twitter: @AcquistoA

If a one-year curbside waste pick-up program is approved by the South Portland City Council, approximately 600 households will receive these buckets to collect and recycle kitchen scraps.

South Portland and Scarborough reporter for The Forecaster. Graduate of Western Kentucky University and the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies. Alex can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106.