Former Bath City Council Chair Mari Eosco started making whatever she could out of what would otherwise be trash during the COVID-19 pandemic. She has made many tote bags out of old pet food bags. Photo courtesy of Mari Eosco

BATH — When the COVID-19 pandemic reached Maine in March, former Bath City Council Chair Mari Eosco adopted the adage “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” She began making whatever she could out of what would otherwise end up in the city’s landfill.

“I have pets and for years I’ve been collecting their food bags because they seem like such usable materials and I just didn’t know what to do with them yet,” Eosco said. “While spending a lot of time at home, I pulled out my sewing machine and watched a YouTube video on how to make a tote bag.”

Those tote bags were the beginning. Empty bags of her mother’s favorite candy saw new life as travel dog water bowls, old tires from a neighbor became coasters and old banners were sewn into wallets.

Eosco said she started giving away her creations because she was never interested in earning money.

“What I really want is to have a conversation with people about trash,” she said. “I want to give these things away, but I want people to think about what they’re throwing in the trash, where its ultimate destination is and how long it’ll be there.”

Bath’s 8,338 residents throw 10,000-12,000 tons of trash in the city’s landfill each year, said Lee Leiner, Bath public works director. Over the past 50 years, Leiner said about 1.5 million tons of trash have accumulated in the landfill.

“At the current rate we’re filling it, we’ll need to close the landfill about 15 years from now,” Leiner said.

The Bath landfill is made up of different cells that were formed then filled over time. The city is filling its last cell, which was about 10% full this time last year, Leiner said.

Once the cell is full, Leiner said the city will need to cover the landfill with several layers of impermeable plastic, clay and dirt so water can’t get in and gas can’t get out. He estimated that project will cost the city $3.5 million to $4 million.

While the city can’t take trash out of the landfill, Eosco said residents have “the opportunity to turn the dial on how quickly we fill that cell” by reducing the amount of waste they create.

Eosco said she has turned old tires info everything from Bath-themed coasters to vases. Photo courtesy of Mari Eosco

“When I’m sewing or creating something, it feels good knowing what I’m diverting it away from the landfill,” she said. “It feels like all these different aspects of my life are coming together in this very creative way.”

Eosco said her passion for reducing Bath’s waste began during her time on the Bath city council. She said being faced with hard facts about how much waste the city produces and where it goes was a wake-up call and made her re-evaluate how she deals with her own trash.

She announced her resignation in June after nearly 14 years on the council. She said at the time she was stepping down to take care of an ailing family member.

According to the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, the state has been trying to reach a 50% recycling rate, meaning half of its municipal waste generated gets recycled, since 1989.

The most recent data from the Maine DEP, gathered in 2016, shows Maine’s municipal solid waste recycling rate is just under 37%.

To reach its 50% recycling rate goal, the Maine DEP recommends substituting reusable products, such as reusable water bottles, thermos and canvas bags, for their disposable and single-use counterparts.

Leiner said he also recommends people consider what they bring home when they shop because “you begin creating waste when you’re at the store.”

“Whatever you buy and bring home is going to become waste at some point,” he said. “Even when we set our garbage at the curb and it goes away, it doesn’t really go away.”

“What’s happening at our landfill is just a tiny example of what’s happening in landfills all over the world,” said Eosco. “We’re throwing things in these landfills that will sit there for we don’t even know how long. The city of Bath will be maintaining its landfill until kingdom come as far as I know.”

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