Green bins for compost can be seen down the line in the kitchen at DiMillo’s restaurant in Portland. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

State lawmakers say it’s time for Maine to catch up with the rest of New England and pass a law to keep food scraps out of the trash – an act supporters claim would reduce food insecurity, save towns and cities money, and slow climate change.

In 2022, almost 60,000 tons of food waste was sent to rot in Maine landfills, according to national models, producing more than 2,000 tons of methane, a greenhouse gas that is more than 28 times as potent as carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the atmosphere.

Surplus food disposal was the environmental equivalent of driving 30,000 gas-powered cars for a year.

“Waste has been an issue from the very beginning, and this is a way to mitigate it starting now,” said Rep. Stanley Zeigler, D-Montville, who introduced the bill. “I get tired of not doing anything. We have a chance to do something here, to move forward. Let’s do it.”

The bill, which was endorsed by a legislative committee earlier this month, would phase in a limited ban on the landfilling or incinerating of food waste. It would require non-agricultural commercial producers in populated areas to donate edible leftovers and recycle their food scraps.

The initial bill would have given the state Department of Environmental Protection the power to expand the ban to residential households, as Vermont has done, but opposition prompted Ziegler to drop the residential component to improve the bill’s chances at passage before the full House and Senate.


Maine is the only New England state that does not have a food waste law on the books.

Republicans, restaurants and hotel trade groups, hospitals, grocers and even the state Department of Environmental Protection want to keep it that way – at least for now. They say the proposal would be costly for the state to implement and for producers to adopt, especially in a state with only a few recyclers.

“This legislation leads with the presumption that if a program is put into place, the infrastructure to support it will come second,” said Nate Cloutier, director of government affairs for HospitalityMaine, which represents the state’s food service and hotel industries.

“We prefer policymaking that takes the opposite approach, or at least keeps pace with the reality of the circumstances,” he said. “We need hard data and the certainty that this is going to achieve what it’s aiming to. Right now, that doesn’t appear to be the case.”

The amended bill requires Maine to roll out its ban slowly, starting in 2026 with those generating 2 tons of food waste a week within 20 miles of an organics recycler. In 2028, DEP would broaden who must follow the law to include 1-ton food waste producers located within 25 miles of a recycler.

Eventually, the state could expand the ban to those making as little as 100 pounds of food waste a week.


Under the terms of the bill, food waste producers would have to donate edible food before they resorted to agricultural use, such as feeding animals, or to recycling, such as composting or anaerobic digestion for the production of fertilizer, biogas or animal bedding.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the United Nations have each set goals to cut household food waste in half by 2030 to slash methane emissions, which they say is the only way the world can achieve the temperature limits set in the 2015 Paris Agreement.

Ashton Day throws food waste into a compost bin near the dish washing stations at DiMillo’s on Friday, January 5, 2024. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

The bill still has a long way to go before it becomes a reality. It would require approval of the House and Senate, and because it would require at least one DEP hire to write the rules and license recyclers, it also needs approval from the appropriations committee before heading to Gov. Janet Mills for consideration.

The Office of Fiscal and Program Review has yet to calculate the cost of the bill.

Maine doesn’t have a lot of hard data on food waste, which it estimates may make up as much as 40% of its solid waste stream. The DEP would rather wait to act on the bill until it completes two studies, one of which is due back in April, to find out exactly how much food waste is produced and where it winds up.

According to ReFED, a New York-based nonprofit focused on food waste, Maine likely produced about 425,000 tons of surplus food in 2022. According to its estimates, about 67.1% of that was wasted: 31% incinerated, 14% landfilled and 22.1% left to rot in the field or dumped.


Only a third of it was put to good use: 18.6% was composted; 9.5% went to feed animals; and 2.8%, or 2.8 tons, was donated to food rescue organizations. About 1% was used to fertilize farm fields, and half a percent was taken to an anaerobic digester to be turned into biogas.

Mainers sent $976 million worth of food to incinerators and $440 million to landfills, ReFED said.

Supporters say the excess edible food could be used to feed Mainers at risk of going hungry. According to the Maine Department of Education, 1 in 4 children in Maine is food insecure, and about a third of those are children who do not qualify for public assistance.

In Vermont, food donation is reported to have tripled since its law passed in 2012.

Servers throw food waste into a compost bin at DiMillo’s restaurant in Portland. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

One of HospitalityMaine’s board members, Steve DiMillo, said the bill isn’t needed because large organic waste generators already take steps to reduce unnecessary food production, donate what they can’t sell, and use an organics recycler if one is nearby.

DiMillo said he sends 100% of the food waste produced at his Portland eatery, DiMillo’s on the Water, to Agri-Cycle, an anaerobic digestion operation launched in 2013 to help manage the manure for a fifth-generation dairy farm in Exeter.

Recycling his food waste through Agri-Cycle is a little more expensive than paying higher hauling fees to simply throw it out, DiMillo said, but not so expensive as to stop him from doing what he knows is right for his local community and customers.

Adding a layer of government reporting to the recycling process will only drive the costs higher, he said.

“I didn’t need the state to tell me to compost,” DiMillo said. “I did it because it’s the right thing to do and because I could afford to, not because somebody made me. These government mandates can make or break a struggling business. You’ve got to give them a chance.”

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