Maine DEP Column by Sustainability Director Recognizes American Recycles Day

November 15, 2013

-Jessamine Logan, Communications Director, 287-5842

Friday, November 15 is America Recycles Day! Show your support for sustainable practices by not only increasing your recycling efforts but also by purchasing products that are made with recycled materials! The newly created Sustainability Division at Maine Department of Environmental Protection not only encourages recycling but also has a 21st century approach to materials management to ensure we have a more sustainable future in Maine.

You may ask, what’s materials management? Is it recycling? Is it waste management? First of all, it’s not waste – let’s move away from calling it waste – the stuff you are throwing out in the trash is a material that oftentimes can be beneficially used to reduce the amount we put in our landfills. While great strides have been made throughout the State in recycling, much more can be done to reduce the amount of material we send to our landfills – and it has to be done. A recent DEP report to the legislature indicated that in Maine, we just do not have available landfill capacity to continue with our unsustainable trend of throwing away our materials. Reducing the materials being sent to our landfills isn’t just good for the environment, although the benefits are clear – it makes economic sense too. Expanding landfill capacity takes time and money, which is reflected in rates taxpayers and businesses have to pay. There are options for these materials recovered from disposal – whether they are composted, utilized in manufacturing or energy production – that provide economic benefits.

But there just might be a relatively simple solution as we tackle this opportunity. There is a way to reduce nearly 40 percent of our residential garbage – just by removing organic “stuff”. Organics include food scraps from preparing meals, or leftovers, or leaves and grass clippings, paper plates with food stuck on them, and such.

What to do with these? While Mainers have long been familiar with compost piles in their backyards, there are other ways too. For those people who don’t have the space or time to manage a composting pile on their property, curbside composting or composting through your local transfer station might be an option. Lincoln County has started a pilot project where residents can deliver food scraps to the county’s composting site in Wiscasset, and the Town of Skowhegan has started a similar project, all aimed at reducing the amount of material being sent off for disposal. Innovative entrepreneurs have also taken advantage of the numerous opportunities that come with beneficially reusing organic materials through anaerobic digesters or curbside collection of organics, and composting them to create green, sustainable jobs. There is a service company in the Portland area called ‘Garbage to Garden’ which collects one bucket of organic materials from a resident, and that person can receive one bucket of compost in return. Our organic materials are assets, just waiting to be beneficially reused rather than dumped in a landfill.

For businesses and institutions with cafeterias, or for restaurants, managing unwanted food can be simple: only buy what you need and can use; send usable unwanted food to help feed the less fortunate; divert food scraps to an animal producer; have the food scraps collected and sent to an anaerobic digester for energy production or to a composter where the value of the food scraps can be recovered. The University of Maine at Farmington delivers their food scraps to the Sandy River Recycling Association’s compost facility in Farmington, where it is composted along with food scraps from other local schools and businesses. Agri-Energy, located in Exeter, operates an anaerobic digester where food scraps are blended with cow manure to generate methane, which is collected and combusted to produce electricity for the grid.

These organic ‘wastes’, which are really ‘resources’, can be utilized locally, yielding multiple benefits. As the Department’s first Sustainability Director, I encourage each of us to not only show your support today for recycling , but also to find additional opportunities throughout our daily activities where we can become better stewards of materials that we may normally throw away. It makes sense for our environment and our economy.

  • George MacDonald, Sustainability Director, Maine Department of Environmental Protection