Maine Food Recovery Hierarchy. Courtesy of Maine Department of Environmental Protection

The Senator George J. Mitchell Center for Sustainability Solutions at the University of Maine has launched Food Rescue MAINE, a statewide education and action campaign intended to increase food rescue and recycling and reduce the amount of food waste disposed of in Maine landfills. The project slogan is, “Maine Food–Too Good To Waste.”

With $27,318 in support from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection Waste Diversion Grants program, the Mitchell Center Maine food waste solutions team of faculty and students will develop and implement Food Rescue MAINE, a focused education campaign to enhance awareness of the growing food waste problem and to inspire public and private action. Food Rescue MAINE goals align with those delineated in the Maine DEP Food Recovery Hierarchy, which focuses on ensuring the best and highest use of the state’s food resources. The Mitchell Center project is the first statewide food waste education campaign funded by the DEP. 

The City of Portland will collaborate with the Mitchell Center to measure the food waste collected at five new food waste recycling sites that opened to the public on Earth Day. The food waste solutions team will gather and analyze data from the Portland sites to quantify the economic and environmental benefits realized by eliminating food from the solid waste stream. 

Several central Maine municipalities have also partnered with the Mitchell Center to pilot community food recycling initiatives, including Winslow, Waterville and a coalition of Fayette, Readfield and Wayne. Food waste solutions student interns have developed educational materials, signage and other resources for the towns to use to publicize new community food rescue programs. To bolster municipal food rescue efforts in Portland, Hannah Crayton, a Mitchell Center intern from Thomas College, will pilot a newly developed education outreach program with students at Talbot Elementary School in May.  

“Focusing on educating children that ‘food is not trash’ will insure a better future for Maine by providing food waste activities, educational videos, and challenge contests,” says Crayton. “We will be empowering students to make a difference.”

A Food Rescue MAINE website developed by University of Southern Maine new media student Asher Close will serve as a hub for community outreach and a resource library for the consumer education campaign. The site offers a variety of information for Maine consumers and organizations including tips and best practices for food recycling, a list of community composting locations, recycling do’s and don’ts and innovative recipes that utilize leftover food.   

Other elements of the education and action campaign include an annual Maine Food Waste Solutions summit hosted by the Mitchell Center, a statewide food rescue software system pilot, development of a cost savings tool for Maine restaurants and food service businesses to track and measure food waste, a step-by-step guide to increasing food donation, and a model community food recycling pilot program with the tagline, “Maine Food–Too Good To Waste.” 

Maine DEP Commissioner Melanie Loyzim, who participated in the first annual Maine Food Waste Solutions Summit on April 9, noted that the Mitchell Center has been a long-time partner of the DEP. 

“We are so pleased to be able to support the Mitchell Center, continuing to be involved in waste management issues in the state,” said Loyzim via Zoom. “It feels like our grant investment in the Mitchell Center is one that is just going to multiply over the years.”

According to Susanne Lee, UMaine project lead and faculty fellow at the Mitchell Center, the Maine food waste education and action campaign can help Maine businesses, municipalities and organizations implement sustainable win-win-win solutions that offer economic, community and natural resource benefits.