LISBON — If you build it, they will come – with buckets full of compost.

Lisbon rolled out its new composting program last month, with the help of a $3,500 federal grant for the compost drop-off site at the transfer station at 14 Capital Ave. It hired a curbside compost service, Garbage to Garden, to collect household food waste weekly. From there it goes to Benson Farm in Gorham and is turned into nutrient-rich compost used to enrich depleted soil.

“Anything that grows, it goes,” said Mark Stevens, Lisbon’s parks and recreation director. He works with the town’s Conservation Commission, which has been looking at ways to divert food waste from the town’s solid waste flow.

In 2018-19, the town sent about 2,900 tons of waste to Maine Waste to Energy for disposal, which cost the town $207,500, according to Ray Soucy, administrative assistant for Lisbon Public Works.

“The idea was to reduce the amount of tonnage that goes through the hopper,” Stevens said.

That will require a culture change in how the town handles its waste, he said.

It’s worked in communities like Bath, which also contracts with Garbage to Garden to collect food waste and keep it out of the city’s landfill. The city started a northern drop off site in March 2017 and added a southern drop site in August 2018.

In 2018 ,the city collected 17,500 pounds of compost and was already up to 18,750 pounds as of Sept. 30 this year, according to Lee Leiner, Bath Public Works director.

“It has helped the budget in the sense that the more waste we keep out of the landfill the longer it will last and the longer we can push off having to pay to take the waste somewhere else,” he said.

Stevens said the town planned to start off small, giving out 15 pails to residents to spread the word and advertising on the town’s website and Facebook page. In a town of 10,000 residents, the Conservation Commission wasn’t sure what to expect.

The town gave out 40 5-gallon buckets in three days.

“This thing is taking off,” Stevens said.

Two 64-gallon bins filled up in three days. Stevens had to call Garbage to Garden to get more bins. While the town isn’t giving out any more compost buckets, Stevens said people can use their own containers.

The composting station has educational signs and is always accessible to residents. Stevens stressed it is for household waste. Grass clippings, leaves, and sticks should go in a separate designated area at the transfer station.

“Right now it’s just kitchen waste,” he said.

Garbage to Garden can take items like vegetables, fruit, bread, meat, dairy, bones and shells. In turn, the town can get free compost for its schools and community garden.

The company said in an email to The Times Record that composting has substantial environmental benefits.

“When food scraps enter the landfill, they break down anaerobically (without the presence of oxygen),” the company states. “A byproduct of this process is an excess of methane gas, one of the more potent greenhouse gases. The moisture from food waste in landfills also mixes with other waste and creates a toxic sludge called leachate,” which pollutes groundwater.

The average person tosses 250 pounds of food scraps away every year, said Mark King, an organic management specialist with the Maine Department of Environmental Protection’s Bureau of Remediation and Waste Management.

That adds up fast for towns. Food waste is 80 percent water and is the heaviest portion of a community’s overall waste.

King said between 23 percent and 40 percent of a community’s waste is made up of food waste. The first step is getting people collecting food for composting to show that it can be done, “then next to see if we can provide a local option.”

King said he eventually would like to see the town compost within Lisbon, reducing the carbon footprint it takes to haul all the food from Lisbon to Gorham.

Stevens couldn’t provide an estimate of how much compositing could save in solid waste disposal costs until the town has more data. The Conservation Commission will be watching the program and tracking its success carefully, he said.

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