Senator Carson, Representative Tucker, and members of the Joint Standing Committee on Environment and Natural Resources, my name is Sarah Lakeman and I am the Sustainable Maine Project Director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine (NRCM). I appreciate this opportunity to testify in support of LD 524.
NRCM is dedicated to advancing policies and programs that reduce waste, conserve resources, and prevent waste from entering landfills. Organic waste is a significant portion of our municipal solid waste stream in Maine, and we believe that there is untapped policy potential to move this material up Maine’s Solid Waste Management and Food Recovery Hierarchies. A joint study between the Department of Environmental Protection and the Department of Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry would be a collaborative way to evaluate and draft specific policies and programs that will lead to increased food recovery and composting in Maine.
The study could begin by reviewing a stakeholder group report released in January 2018, by the Senator George J. Mitchell Center for Sustainable Policy Solutions at the University of Maine titled, “Waste Is Not the Maine Way”. This report was submitted at the request of the Committee, and it was intended to contribute to discussions about food recovery by drawing on stakeholder expertise to estimate the food waste problem in the state. The group did a commendable job at estimating the food waste generated by sector in Maine, and the processing capacity available. The report also outlines food waste recovery and redistribution potential, and provides a preliminary assessment of several state-level policies that might help to reduce and recover wasted food. A copy of the full report it attached for your convenience.
Of note, there was broad consensus among the stakeholder group that organics recycling laws and landfill prohibitions have the most potential to significantly transform the food waste landscape and increase food donations. The group further determined that “the DEP reports sufficient existing capacity to oversee implementation and, if successful, these policies would constitute a significant step toward supporting the State’s waste management hierarchy (38 MRSA §2101, adopted 1989), food waste hierarchy (38 MRS §2101-B, adopted 2015) and recycling goal (38 MRS §2132) which states, “It is the goal of the State to recycle or compost, by January 1, 2021, 50% of the municipal solid waste tonnage generated each year within the State.”
There are already successful policies in other New England states that encourage organic waste diversion that Maine can learn from, as suggested by LD 524. Massachusetts passed an industry-supported organic waste disposal ban that affects large food waste generators (generating more than one ton of organic waste per week). Vermont has enacted a phased-in organics disposal ban, initially affecting large food waste generators within a certain distance from an organics composting facility, and will eventually include households. Disposal bans spur industry growth by providing a guaranteed source of material that companies can rely on to start up or expand their collection and processing operations, and we believe this could be a good option for Maine. We’ve provided comparison of similar across New England states, attached, for your reference.
We do, however, have a suggested amendment for LD 524. The current language focuses on composting, which is great, but Maine shouldn’t lose sight of the bigger picture when it comes to food waste. The US wastes 40% of the food we produce; and Maine ranks 12th in the nation and first in New England for food insecurity—so we suggest the study also evaluate ways to reach the upper most rungs of the Food Recovery Hierarchy, which prioritizes food waste prevention and feeding people and animals before anaerobic digestion or composting.
NRCM thanks Representative Hickman for bringing this proposal forward, and we urge the Committee to further the work done by the Mitchell Center stakeholder group by supporting this resolve. Thank you for your careful consideration, and I’d be happy to answer any questions.
- “Waste Is Not the Maine Way”— A stakeholder group report released in January 2018, by the Senator George J. Mitchell Center for Sustainable Policy Solutions at the University of Maine
- Comparison of New England organic waste disposal bans
- NRCM suggested amendment to LD 524
 Report can be found here: https://umaine.edu/mitchellcenter/wp-content/uploads/sites/293/2018/01/FINAL-FULL-REPORT.pdf