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Officials on Vinalhaven say that a communitywide composting program will not only help deliver nutrients to the island’s poor soil, but it will actually save the town money by reducing the amount of solid waste shipped off the island.
The town was awarded a $20,000 grant from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection in June to turn a small composting project started last fall into an islandwide composting service located at the town’s transfer station.
“We are looking at it as conserving resources and generating something that could benefit the island,” Gabe McPhail, Vinalhaven’s community development and engagement coordinator, said of the composting program.
Getting anything on and off an island is expensive, and municipal solid waste is no exception. It costs about $120 per ton to ship trash from the island to the mainland for disposal, according to McPhail. Which means that any food waste that can be diverted from the municipal waste stream will save the town money.
In recent years, Vinalhaven has been focusing on how to reduce and streamline the island’s waste stream. There is an entire town committee, known as “Waste Watchers,” tasked with overseeing and making recommendations on the island’s solid waste and recycling ordinance.
Last year, to encourage more folks to recycle and cut down on shipping costs, Vinalhaven began offering zero-sort recycling.
The idea for a community composting program started about a year ago when Waste Watchers organized a composting workshop to gauge community interest. What they found, McPhail said, was that a number of residents were already composting at home, but some people who wanted to compost didn’t have the space to do it.
This fall, a small composting program was started at the transfer station that allowed a limited number of residents and one island business to dispose of their food scraps. The composting was done in the blue or gray plastic containers used widely among fishermen.
“One component of the pilot program was that we wanted to repurpose these [containers] which are everywhere in coastal communities,” McPhail said.
Horse manure and wood shavings were added to the compost bin and mixed with the food scraps brought by residents. Since the pilot program started, 30 cubic feet of finished compost has been generated. This small-scale program would divert about one ton of food scraps from the town’s municipal waste stream annually, McPhail said.
The $20,000 DEP grant awarded to the town will allow the composting project to expand to include anyone on the island who wants to participate, including island businesses. The expanded composting program will consist of a large static pile at the transfer station, where the exactic composting bin is currently being used.
Next to the pile will be wood shavings and horse manure for residents to add to the composting pile when they dump their food scraps. The pile will be open to the public year round and McPhail said any type of food scraps can be contributed.
“You can essentially scrap your plate into a bucket and bring it to the transfer station,” McPhail said.
The site will hopefully be ready for folks to start composting by the end of the summer, McPhail said. With the expanded composting program, McPhail estimates that about 30 tons of food scraps will be diverted from the island’s waste stream. By removing the food scraps from the waste stream, McPhail estimates that the project will result in about $3,600 savings annually.
In addition to the savings, the project will also bring in revenue, with finished compost being sold for $5 per cubic foot. Since Vinalhaven is a granite island, the soil isn’t the best quality, McPhail said. To plant gardens, island residents use compost to build up the soil and add nutrients.
For McPhail, and the Waste Watchers committee, a communitywide composting program was a win-win.
“We don’t look at food scraps as waste, because it will produce something of great value,” McPhail said. “It’s a huge cost savings for us, but there is also the issue of why are we paying to throw away something that is going to yield something of benefit?”
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