Water vapor rises from the interior as Mike Morgan uses a tractor to turn a compost pile Thursday at the Readfield Transfer Station. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

READFIELD — A grant will jumpstart a new composting program at the Readfield Transfer Station, which promises to divert some waste away from landfills and save residents money along the way.

The $22,311 grant from the Maine Department of Environment Protection was pursued by Readfield’s Solid Waste Committee, which comprises officials and citizens from Fayette, Readfield and Wayne. All three of those municipalities contribute funds to run the Readfield Transfer Station.

Readfield Select Board Member Kathryn Woodsum, chairperson of the Solid Waste Committee, said the initiative could save the member towns between $5,000 and $15,000 a year if 13% of residents start composting.

According to a spreadsheet provided by Readfield Town Manager Eric Dyer, the net operating expenses for the transfer station this fiscal year total $248,600.

That amount is divided among the member towns based on each one’s state valuation. Readfield pays $114,296, or 41.8%, of the total cost, while Wayne pays $84,235, or 30.8%, and Fayette pays $74,929, or 27.4%.

Dyer said the program would lower the overall tax impact and allow the towns to enter more funding into the capital account for the transfer station, which has also benefited from a bump in revenue recently. He attributed the revenue increase to diligent work from Karen Peterson, the assistant transfer station manager.

The project will also decrease municipal tipping costs by removing heavy food garbage from the waste stream. Dyer said the town would be making fewer trips to Norridgewock to dispose of municipal waste, which is about 25% food.

The transfer station already offers a compost pile for yard waste, which Woodsum said contributed to a decrease in total municipal solid waste when it began.

As an added effect, residents will be able to take or buy the compost from the transfer station. Currently, the yard waste compost is available for free and limited to two five-gallon buckets per visit. The food scrap compost, he said, would be even more nutrient rich than what is available at the station now.

“We like this because it has these compounding layers of benefit,” Dyer said.

Snow covers a compost pile Thursday at the Readfield Transfer Station. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

Dyer said composting lessons will be offered at the transfer station in the spring. He said participants would be taught how to turn a backyard compost pile properly, and be given a composting bin to take home.

Fayette Selectman Jon Beekman, a member of the Solid Waste Committee, echoed that the bottom line for residents is that the program will save the member towns money.

“The issue is that we have a lot of food product left over (in the) trash and it adds a significant weight,” he said. “It’s a compostable material that if we can eliminate it out of the trash, we can save money.”

The new pile will also be used as a case study that could provide evidence that composting can work in smaller Maine towns.

Mark King, a state environmental protection organics management specialist, said his department and University of Maine’s Mitchell Center for Sustainability Solutions, along with some help from the Kennebec Valley Council of Governments, will be keeping an eye on the project.

“We’re going to work with Readfield to find out what works and doesn’t work,” he said. “I’m working with the Mitchell Center to try and promote community composting across the state.”

King said composting takes food scraps out of landfills, which are not designed to break down food. King said food scraps make up 25% of all trash, but up to 80% of that trash’s weight. Moreover, 80% of food waste’s content is water, which leeches out into the ground.

Compost piles are a producer of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, which King said is a reason why people are skeptical of composting. He said that methane, a greenhouse gas emitted from landfills, is 25 times better at holding in heat than carbon dioxide, making it a much heavier contributor to climate change than carbon dioxide.

Along with the benefit to municipal bottom lines, King said composting can have a behavioral effect on the individual who begins collecting their food scraps by showing them what edible items they don’t use.

“What composting does is makes us shop smarter,” he said. “When people start collecting food scraps, they start to notice how much they’re throwing away.”

King said the Readfield program will have a large education component, which could tear down the barrier keeping people from composting.

“We will spend a significant amount of time teaching them how to compost,” he said. “We hope the enthusiasm will get other folks interested.”

Woodsum said there will be a wash station at the transfer station where people can leave their compost buckets and pick up a new one after emptying food scraps.

She said there would be no additional cost for labor at the transfer station because of the new compost pile. If staff were to become overburdened by use of the program, Woodsum said a new plan would be made.

“We feel like we ought to be able to handle (the program),” she said. “If it did become overburdening, then it would be successful.”

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