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New composting initiative brings food waste issues to town

5 mins read

FARMINGTON – A new collaboration involving the Maine Department of Environmental Protection and the University of Maine at Farmington will reduce food waste by making composting more accessible locally.

Mark King, a local environmental specialist for the DEP, started the food scraps initiative to provide a simple way for Farmington area businesses to dispose of food waste through decomposition rather than going into the landfill. The goal is to eventually include citizens as the initiative develops. The project will work in conjunction with the UMF compost pile, which King helped start back in 2005.

“A gentleman named Ron Slater, who passed away recently, and I developed it on the back of a napkin in Java Joes in Farmington,” King said, who is the organics management specialist for the Maine DEP.

The DEP has been working on a local solution for the food waste problem for years, starting back in 2004. According to King, the idea is to pull organic materials out of the traditional disposal route and find a way to recycle them. The DEP believes that a big step in accomplishing this goal is to reeducate the public.

There are two main ways to get food waste out of landfills: composting and digestion. Composting is a way to decompose food scraps and turn them into fertilizer to be used to grow more produce. Digestion is just what it sounds like — the food stays in the food chain to be consumed instead of being thrown out.

According to King, the ideal solution is source reduction — not producing the scraps to begin with. While creating zero waste is a lofty goal, using the uneaten food scraps to feed hungry people is something that’s doable. A way to do this is food rescue, taking extra, unused food from schools and grocery stores, and donating it to shelters and food pantries. Good Shepherd in Auburn is one of these food pantries who participates in food rescue.

Since the DEP began testing out food scraps initiatives in the early 2000s, King has noted many successes. In 2012 and 2013, they focused on food recovery, and in 2016 the legislature passed a food recovery hierarchy, promoting finding the highest and best end uses for food scraps.

Chelsea Roy, a rising junior at UMF and part of the sustainability coalition at the university, is working as a summer intern with King and other UMF faculty.

“Chelsea has redefined the internship. It’s gone from us telling a student what to do to a student teaching us,” said Mark King. “She’s been a breath of fresh air.”

Roy has been developing ideas and wants to set up a compost dropoff station outside the Crossroads Landfill recycling center for local citizens to bring in food scraps from home to be composted. The recycling center is located in Norridgewock, serving eight towns. Jeff McGown, a senior district manager at the disposal company Waste Management who owns the center, will be working with Roy to accomplish this later in the summer. The station will collect food scraps from citizens and turn them into compost to be sold at the facility.

King spoke of McGown and the help he has given to composting initiatives over the years. Recently, McGown donated a pickup truck to UMF to help students bring food scraps to the compost pile. In the past, McGown has actually helped to pay for the summer internship and bought compost from the DEP to give away at Crossroads Landfill.

For more information on the importance of limiting food waste and finding the best ways to dispose of it, visit, https://www.maine.gov/dep/sustainability/compost/index.html.

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