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Portland expands composting program after 'overwhelming' popularity

The city started the free program on Earth Day 2021, offering five drop-off locations.

PORTLAND, Maine — The city of Portland's free composting program will expand in 2022 after it saved more than 1 trillion pounds of food waste from going into landfills.

Sustainability director Troy Moon said Friday that the program has saved 7 tons of food waste per month at the city's five free compost drop-off locations.

Moon said they plan to add three new locations at Brentwood Garden in the Deering neighborhood, the Riverton Garden, and Payson Park.

"It was [an] overwhelmingly positive response. People have been really enthusiastic about the drop-off program, and they've really embraced it," Moon said.

Moon said the food waste collected at the city's sites goes to a farm in Exeter, owned by Agri-Cycle, which owns We Compost It!

Moon said farm workers combine the food scraps with cow manure from the dairy farm and put the mixture in a digester.

That digester makes gas, which they used to generate electricity. It also makes liquid digestate, which staff use on their field to grow hay. The cows then eat that hay. A fiber is left after the digestion, which staff give back to the cows as comfortable bedding.

"All of the material we collect goes into the closed-loop cycle on the farm," Moon said. "The farm has use for all of those products."

Moon said the city surveyed 425 people about the free compost program, and many praised the free, convenient drop-off sites.

The program also lessens people's reliance on the city's purple trash bags that are part of its Pay-As-You-Throw trash collection system.  

The cost of the bags covers the cost to the city of disposing of trash, so people pay only for what they throw away. Trash is only collected by the city if it's in the sanctioned purple bags. 

"We can all do our part by just being more careful how we manage our food scraps and composting them when we have some left," Moon said. "If you're doing the right thing, you're absolutely saving money on your monthly expenses or for trash."

Rebecca Boggs moved from Rockland to Portland in November and said she uses a compost bucket at her apartment to drop off food waste every week.

"I'm a big hiker and a lot of outdoor activity person, and I don't want that to go away. I want to save a lot of what we have, so I think doing little things like this helps in the long run," Boggs said.

Compost drop-off is available at the following locations:

  • North Street Community Garden, 195 North St.
  • Boyd Street Community Garden, 2 Boyd St.
  • Clark Street Community Garden, corner of Clark and Salem streets
  • Libbytown Community Garden, 175 Douglass St.
  • Riverside Recycling Facility, 910 Riverside St.