Officials: Composting would cut waste load

Posted May 14, 2010, at 9:57 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — Roughly 25 percent of the state’s waste stream is made up of lawn and leaf clippings and food scraps — all of which can be turned into valuable compost.

But while some residents and businesses have turned to composting as a way to effectively handle certain waste, it still doesn’t have a strong toehold in Maine.

The State Planning Office and the Maine Department of Environmental Protection are working to change that. The two state agencies held a seminar on Friday in Bangor on composting — the first of many planned to increase awareness and promote the benefits of moving waste “from the garbage to the garden.”

Sam Morris with the planning office said the state embarked on a compost initiative in 2004 but has not done anything substantive since.

“We still think it’s a good idea, but it requires education and support,” he told a small group of Bangor officials Friday.

Composting, whether it’s done in a pile in the backyard or on a large-scale municipal level, is simple. Food and yard waste decomposes naturally and over time turns into a nutrient-rich material that can be used by farmers and gardeners.

“What we can do is help people supercharge and control that process,” Morris said.

In a state that still lags far behind its goal of 50 percent recycling, adding in composting is a tricky proposition, according to Mark King with the Maine DEP.

“We’re promoting large-scale operations at the municipal level, but it starts in the backyard,” he said.

For some, it’s as simple as a static pile that decomposes over time. Others can create what’s know as a windrow, or a long, thin pile of composting material. Still others can use bins, which can be purchased or homemade.

Composting can pose some problems, mostly odor and pest concerns, but King said once residents learn the right “recipe,” those problems go away.

“We can help people find the right system and identify opportunities for partnerships,” he said.

Jerry Hughes with the Bangor Public Works Department, said the city currently has a site for leaf and lawn waste but nothing for food scraps. As with anything, composting requires initial capital investments and continual monitoring. The upside? It diverts waste from landfills or incinerators.

Nearly 100 of the 492 municipalities in Maine have some sort of composting program. Many colleges and universities have programs, including the Maine Compost School at Highmoor Farm in Monmouth — part of the University of Maine’s Cooperative Extension. York County has a collection service that is offered to area restaurants. Morris said there are plans in the Portland area for a public-private partnership on composting.

“There is still a lot more to be done,” he said.

Information about composting is available on the State Planning Office’s website, www.maine.gov/spo/recycle/residents/residents.htm.

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