Scarborough’s Food Waste Program: Was It a Waste of Time?

SCARBOROUGH, Maine — Scarborough’s solid waste pilot program did not work for the residents of Pleasant Hill Road based on their feedback sent in September 2017, but the program was not a waste of time, according to officials.

The Scarborough town council will make a decision on the next steps for the town’s waste removal after Scarborough’s sustainability coordinator, Kerry Grantham, presents the results of both Scarborough and South Portland food waste pilot programs to them in January 2018. The town council will review feedback from residents who participated in both programs.

Normally, Scarborough’s trash collectors, Pine Tree Wastes, collected both trash and recycling every week. In Scarborough’s food waste pilot program, Pine Tree Wastes collected food waste weekly, but alternated recycling and trash collection every week for the 260 residents of Pleasant Hill Road.

The program began in May and was set to end in January 2018. The program discontinued in September after Pleasant Hill residents sent back their surveys.

Many of the residents of Pleasant Hill Road reported that waiting for trash collectors to pick up the recycling for two weeks was problematic because, after an extra week, they had an overflow of recycling.

“Everyone vocalized that they preferred not to alternate trash and recycling,” said Grantham. “We learned that for a lot of families, Amazon purchases are convenient.”

Some residents threw away recycling in the trash.

“Over time, the amount of contamination of recycling and of trash was much higher than normal,” said University of Southern Maine professor, Travis Wagner, who worked with Scarborough and South Portland on their food waste programs.

Some of the residents had a positive response to the program. Some families wrote in their surveys that the food waste disposal was hard at first, but as soon as they changed their habits, it was easy.

“Families were examining their waste behaviors,” said Grantham.

The Scarborough town council will also review feedback from South Portland’s residents who participated in the South Portland food waste program.

South Portland contracted Garbage-to-Garden to collect food waste, garbage, and recycling together weekly for 600 homes in the Knightville and Meetinghouse Hill neighborhoods for their food waste pilot program. The town of South Portland pays for the pilot program.

The majority of feedback reported on the South Portland pilot program were positive.

“We did a hauling contract for a year, so ours is continuing on. They [the pilot programs] were really just two different models. We haven’t had any problems yet,” said South Portland’s sustainability coordinator, Julie Rosenbach.

Researchers are not willing to release data before South Portland’s pilot program ends.

The Scarborough town council will consider the next steps for the town’s waste removal in January 2018. The Scarborough Energy Committee reported that Scarborough’s waste had 30 percent of food waste and recommended a food waste collection service. The Scarborough town council voted against the use of city-required trash bags to reduce waste collection costs.

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