South Portland, Scarborough to try curbside food waste collection

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SOUTH PORTLAND — The city and Scarborough will be participating in a food waste collection pilot program beginning in May.

Both programs will launch May 7-13, during Maine Composts Week and International Compost Awareness Week, through ecomaine.

Julie Rosenbach, South Portland’s sustainability coordinator, said the goal of the program is to gather data on participation, waste diversion, and the cost effectiveness of adding curbside food waste collection to the city’s waste management program. 

Public Works Director Doug Howard said nearly 600 households will be served by the one-year program, in parts of the Knightville and Meetinghouse Hill neighborhoods. Additional bins will be set up at the transfer station on Highland Avenue for residents who do not live in the pilot program zones. 

Residents will be surveyed both before and after the program to gather feedback.

Kerry Strout, Scarborough’s sustainability coordinator, said her town selected the Pleasant Hill neighborhood as the focus of its nine-month pilot program, which will serve about 150 households. Other residents will be able to drop off their food waste at Pine Tree Waste, 87 Pleasant Hill Road; Maine Veterans’ Home at 290 U.S. Route 1, and Wal-Mart at 500 Gallery Blvd.

Residents in the Scarborough pilot area will no longer have weekly trash pick-up, and will instead move to alternating weeks. Pine Tree Waste will, however, pick up the food waste every week. 

Households in the South Portland pilot program area will continue to have trash and recycling picked up weekly.

Lisa Wolff, communications manager at ecomaine, said food waste makes up approximately 30 percent of what goes into the average household’s garbage can.

In both communities, the residents participating in the pilot program will have their food waste picked up at the curbside at no cost. The waste will be transported to ecomaine, where it will be weighed for both tipping fees and study purposes.

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

Wolff said one of the reasons ecomaine picked Exeter Agri-Energy is that the company has a de-packer that will separate the food waste from the plastic produce bags residents will be encouraged to use to line their countertop food waste bins. Wolff said the bags will remove some of the “ick factor” for residents.

The bags will then be hauled back to ecomaine for a waste-to-energy processing.

Wolff said ecomaine’s tipping fees are typically $70.50 per ton for trash, but only $55 a ton for food waste.

In South Portland on Monday, city councilors unanimously awared $43,700 to Garbage to Garden of Portland for the curbside food waste collection pilot program.

Each residence will receive a six-gallon bin for food waste, to placed alongside their trash and recycling bins for weekly pick-up.

Rosenbach said the city also has a few hundred countertop bins to hand out.

She said the program isn’t meant to compete with backyard composting, and people who compost can still participate by putting fats, scrap meat and bones that can’t be composted into waste bins.  

Rosenbach said the city is working with ecomaine on an extensive education outreach program to educate residents about the program. The program will include direct mailings in April to residents to explain what happens with the food.

City employees will also canvass neighborhoods and set up an information table at the Hannaford supermarket in Mill Creek.

Strout said Scarborough will use existing funds for its pilot program, and will not have to allocate more town money.

Residents in the program will be given 35-gallon carts that are the same size as recycling and waste containers already provided. Strout said each household will also be given a countertop composting bucket with a list of what is and is not considered food waste. 

Scarborough is developing an outreach program with ecomaine to inform residents about the program. On May 4, an open house is scheduled at Pleasant Hill Elementary School to answer questions, provide information and distribute countertop compost containers. 

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

South Portland and Scarborough will be starting a food waste collection pilot program in May.

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