City to start composting food waste

ELLSWORTH — Say farewell to stinky backyard compost piles, Ellsworth residents: the City Council approved an agreement on Monday evening with DM&J Waste (also known as Maine Organics) that will allow residents to drop food waste off at the transfer station for composting.

“This is getting stuff out of our waste stream that’s impacting our equipment,” said Councilor Gary Fortier.

“It’s an added benefit to our citizens who want to do the right thing and compost it instead of burning it up.”

City trash is processed at Penobscot Energy Recovery Co., which burns waste to generate electricity.

Josh Wellman, who co-owns Maine Organics with his wife, Tracey, told councilors on Monday that the company is prepared to accept all types of food waste in the bins, from fish to cooked pasta, vegetables and meats.

Composting would be an option for residents, not mandatory, said Public Works Director Lisa Sekulich in a memo to councilors.

Composting also will be a cost savings for the city, Sekulich said.

Each bin would hold around 500 pounds of waste, said Sekulich, and cost the city roughly $80 per ton for disposal, less than the cost per ton for tipping and delivery when the waste goes to the Penobscot Energy Recovery Co., which charges the city $76.13 in tipping fees, not including delivery.

Cities and towns around the country are turning to composting as a way to create usable soil and reduce the amount of methane gas produced in landfills.

“When food goes to the landfill, it’s similar to tying food in a plastic bag,” according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

“The nutrients in the food never return to the soil. The wasted food rots and produces methane gas.”

The vast majority — 95 percent — of food waste in the United States winds up in the trash, according to recent estimates from the EPA, accounting for roughly 22 percent of what’s in municipal landfills.

Composting has gained traction in recent years, with 2.1 million tons of food waste composted in 2015, according to the EPA. That’s triple the tonnage that was composted just 15 years earlier, in 2000. And an increasing amount of food scraps are being converted into energy via combustion.

While there have been gains in composting and energy recovery, roughly 30.3 million tons of food waste went to landfills in 2015, a number that has crept upward in recent decades.

Kate Cough

Kate Cough

Kate covers the city of Ellsworth, including the Ellsworth School Department and the city police beat, as well as the towns of Amherst, Aurora, Eastbrook, Great Pond, Mariaville, Osborn, Otis and Waltham. She lives in Southwest Harbor and welcomes story tips and ideas. She can be reached at [email protected]

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