Senator Saviello, Representative Welsh, 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. I appreciate this opportunity to testify in support of LD 659 and LD 712.
As many of you know, a study by the University of Maine a few years ago concluded that as much as 40 percent of our Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) is comprised of organic waste—of which the majority is food scraps. Reducing this segment of the waste stream is a top priority as we work to meet the statewide goal of 50% recycling—a goal that we set 25 years ago, and still have not achieved. We commend the sponsors of these bills for bringing them forward, and we hope the Committee uses these proposals as a basis for legislative action.
Many other states are also falling short on their overall recycling goals, and now are focusing on organic waste diversion strategies. Connecticut has a ban on sending commercial food scraps to landfills, requiring generators of more than two tons of food scraps per week to recycle the materials if they are located within 20 miles of a composting facility. Vermont has also adopted a food scrap disposal ban for large generators, expanding to all food scrap generators by 2020. Last year, Massachusetts implemented a commercial food scrap disposal ban for facilities that generate one ton or more per week, requiring that the material be donated or recycled to keep it out of landfills. The Massachusetts law has substantially increased the volume of organic waste now being composted, anaerobically digested for energy recovery, and used for animal feed.
Residential, commercial and institutional food scrap collection and composting operations are gaining traction, both here in Maine and across the country. In 2005, there were only 24 residential collection programs in the U.S. and by 2014 this number had grown to 198. Some programs tackle household organic waste through curbside pick-up or backyard composting, while others target commercial and institutional food scrap generators such as food processors, supermarkets, restaurants, hospitals and universities. Most of these successful programs got their start as pilot projects—giving credence to the provisions in LD 712.
Boosting participation in organic recycling programs will happen in much the same way that it has with conventional recycling– through raising awareness, making it easy, and providing incentives. However, the biggest challenge to starting new organic recycling programs in Maine is the cost of collection. In many cases, adding a third collection route to the pickup of trash and recycling is too costly. Transporting the material to a processing facility, which may be some distance away, can also be prohibitively expensive. With Maine’s collection and transportation cost considerations, and the need to expand our processing and composting infrastructure, we will need to explore a variety of approaches that are tailored to the differing circumstances from one region to the next.
We believe that DEP is doing some good work providing education and technical assistance to managers of new and existing composting operations. DEP’s “Guide to Recovering and Composting Organics in Maine” is an excellent document, and we’re pleased that DEP staff has been crisscrossing the state giving clinics about the need for increased diversion of organic waste. However, we’re not convinced that these efforts amount to a comprehensive approach, and we think there is still a lot that can be done to increase organics recycling programs throughout Maine.
In developing a comprehensive strategy, it makes sense for DEP to actively seek input from a broad range of stakeholders and experts, as called for in LD 659. Implementing various pilot projects in different regions of the state also seems like the natural next step, as called for in LD 712. It also makes sense to us that DEP would carefully evaluate the option of instituting a commercial food waste ban for large generators located within a reasonable distance of an appropriate composting facility. The strategy should also look carefully at incentives for facilitating infrastructure and investments for composting and anaerobic digestion facilities.
LD 659 and LD 712 could move Maine in the right direction and lead to policies and programs to divert more organic materials from our landfills and waste-to-energy facilities. I look forward to working with members of the committee to shape the outcome of these bills and am happy to answer any questions you may have.