A food waste drop-off location at the Brunswick Recreation Center is part of a three-pronged campaign to increase the number of local households that compost. The site, which opened last month, is the town’s second free drop-off location, joining another at the Public Works Office. John Terhune / The Times Record

A Brunswick campaign to promote food waste recycling could help residents save both dollars and the environment, according to members of the town’s Recycling & Sustainability Committee.

Since the Maine Department of Environmental Protection awarded Brunswick a $19,000 waste diversion grant last year to help fund the town’s Food Waste Reduction and Recycling Initiative, the number of Brunswick households participating in composting efforts has climbed significantly, according to Recycling & Sustainability Committee Chair Jamie Ecker.

“I think the subscription services are the real bellwether,” said Ecker, referring to a 34% jump in the number of Brunswick households paying for commercial compost pick-up programs. “As of the end of June, we’ve had great progress.”

Promoting pick-up programs is just part of the town’s three-pronged strategy to increase the number of households in Brunswick that compost from 15% to 30%, according to Ecker. Thanks to the DEP grant, the town is offering home composting bins for subsidized rates, while public food waste drop-off sites at the Public Works department and the Brunswick Recreation Center allow residents to participate in the effort at no cost.

According to experts, keeping food waste out of landfills can have major benefits that extend beyond limiting greenhouse gas emissions.

“There’s a tremendous win-win-win opportunity in food waste,” said Susanne Lee, faculty fellow at the University of Maine’s Mitchell Center for Sustainability Solutions. “There’s a huge economic benefit to both the community at large and residents of the community. There’s a huge social benefit in terms of food insecurity and in terms of health outcomes for communities that manage their food waste better, and there’s obviously a fantastic environmental impact.”


When food waste sits in a landfill, it produces methane, which is 28 to 36 times more potent than carbon dioxide, according to the EPA. But food waste deposited at Brunswick’s two drop-off sites will be anaerobically digested, a process by which microorganisms help convert the waste into biogas, which can be burned as renewable fuel.

“Most of this is to do good for the environment,” said Recycling & Sustainability Committee member Stephen Wood. “There is no ‘Planet-B.’ We’ve got to take care of this one.”

Pulling organic waste out of the trash stream will also save both the residents and the town of Brunswick money, according to Ecker. He said the average Maine household generates about 10 pounds of food waste each week – a noticeable burden on individuals paying for each “Pay-As-You-Throw” they use and on towns paying for each ton of garbage collected.

Brunswick budgeted over $1.1 million in trash and recycling collection and disposal last year, including nearly $300,000 for trash disposal, according to Public Works Director Jay Astle. While that number will likely rise next year thanks to changing market conditions and a pending switch from Casella Waste Systems to the more environmentally friendly ecomaine, composting efforts could help offset the increase.

“The fee for disposal is expensive,” Astle said. “If there’s a way to do something alternatively with that material and take it out of the waste stream, then there’s real money to be saved.”

For the Recycling Committee Members and Public Works Recycling Intern Eliza Blood, who has led outreach efforts to promote composting, recycling food waste is a tangible way to impact both Brunswick’s bottom line and the planet.

“I just think we have to act instead of sitting back and letting other people act for us,” Blood said. “People can recycle their food and it makes a larger impact than I think anyone knows.”

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