Responsible consumers think about what they throw away, as well as what they buy. Because each of us discards more than half a ton of stuff every year, it’s worth considering ways to cut down the size of that trash pile.
The half-ton figure — specifically, 1,074 pounds — comes from a University of Maine study a couple of years back. The same study found that a bit more than 38 percent of all municipal solid waste could be composted. That means it could be turned into a nutritional supplement for our gardens instead of adding to the growing mountains of trash in our landfills.
The economic benefits are clear. We’d contribute less to the waste stream, saving money on fuel to haul it away and fees the facilities charge to dispose of it. We would get free fertilizer for our gardens. For gardeners looking to minimize application of chemicals, it’s a no-brainer.
Backyard composting has long been a practice by those of us with heavy clay in our garden soil. Now the state of Maine is looking to spread the word about composting and other waste food diversion efforts through a series of workshops.
The Department of Environmental Protection is running sessions across the state, beginning May 6 in Auburn (for a full schedule, see http://maine.gov/dep/training/). The workshops are designed for leaders of business and institutions, as well as private citizens. Participants will learn about ways food waste can be recycled into a usable product.
The short lesson might be summed up this way:
— You cannot compost anything that came from an animal (meat, bones, etc.) since these things could be dug up out of your compost by other critters.
— You can compost virtually anything that grew in the ground (peelings, stems, stalks and other uneaten parts of plants). Making compost means “earth to earth” in the most literal sense.
Each of the eight free workshops will include an introduction to Maine’s Food Scrap Recovery Program; techniques to divert, collect and process food scraps; regulations covering food scrap recovery and use; and lessons learned from current and past collection efforts. Full-day sessions also will include a tour of an organics processing facility.
Several diversion efforts already are underway. Miles Memorial Hospital in Damariscotta just received an award from the DEP for its food diversion effort.
In the Portland area, a business called Garbage to Garden ( www.garbagetogarden.org) offers plastic containers to people to hold their food waste. For a small fee, the company picks up the container and leaves a clean one behind. Participants can get a bucket of finished compost; after the first month, if they volunteer some time, they can get free pickups.
The people who are running the DEP workshops are hoping more reuse efforts will start across the state. Mark King of the DEP says communities can save a lot by diverting potentially beneficial products from the waste stream.
“Nutrients that are generated in a community should be recycled in that community,” King told me.
Organics can be challenging to recycle. They may be available sporadically, be wet or require extra attention because of odors. The workshops will offer tips to deal with those problems. The state is also looking at other techniques to deal with food waste, such as processing in anaerobic digesters.
The workshops are focused on the first goal in the Maine Materials Management Plan. Other goals include reducing the amount and toxicity of waste at its source, reuse and recycling of noncompostable waste, and processing of waste (including incineration) to reduce the amount of waste needing to be landfilled.
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