Readfield Transfer Station Assistant Manager Karen Peterson demonstrates how to open the metal container for residents’ food waste Wednesday at the transfer station in Readfield. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

READFIELD — With the help of a $20,300 grant from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, Readfield has established a food recycling program at its transfer station that will help the community save the environment and money.

Residents of Readfield, Wayne and Fayette will now be able to drop off food waste in a designated area at the Readfield Transfer Station, located at the aptly named 14 Recycle Road. That waste will turn into compost that residents will be able to use. The compost will also be used for municipal landscaping projects.

A finished compost pile, made from last year’s leaves and yard waste, is ready Wednesday for residents to pick up at the transfer station in Readfield. Transfer station employee Mike Morang tends to the compost piles. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

The official kickoff will take place Saturday, with town and state DEP officials and Sen. Craig Hickman on hand. Representatives from the Mitchell Center for Sustainability Solutions at the University of Maine will also take part.

Food Rescue MAINE program helped Readfield get the food recycling program off the ground. The program is a faculty and student organization established in 2019 under the Mitchell Center, with the objective of ending food waste in Maine. The organization looks for ways to end food waste while helping people and the environment, and saving money. It works with dozens of stakeholders in the state’s food system and researches best practices in terms of handling food waste.

According to the group’s description on the UMaine website, it works to address economic costs associated with lost food, such as the water, labor, energy and soil spent on uneaten food, the rate of food insecurity in Maine and New England, as well as environmental costs associated with food waste that negatively impact natural resources and contribute to climate change.

The group, on its web page, determined that “If food waste were a country it would be the third-largest emitter of greenhouse gasses.”

Along with the helping Readfield, Fayette and Wayne, Food Rescue MAINE also helped Waterville and Winslow launch similar food recycling programs earlier this year.

Readfield Town Manager Eric Dyer said the food waste collection comes after the town began collaborating with the DEP and applied for the $20,300 grant.

“We very quickly realized it would be beneficial to bring in some experience and pair that with the funding and expertise from the Maine DEP when it came to physical, on the ground, food composting,” said Dyer.

Home compost containers that residents can pick up and use at the transfer station in Readfield. They will be given away to residents at a kickoff event taking place Saturday. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

He said much of the grant was spent on purchasing 500 high quality composting buckets that will be available for residents during Saturday’s kickoff event, encouraging composting either at home or at the transfer station site.

“Some would rather deal with their own food waste, but not everyone wants to deal with their own backyard compost pile,” said Dyer. “The positive part of this is that it saves money either way.”

The remainder of the grant money was spent on purchasing a large onsite composting bin for the transfer station, Dyer said.

“I think it’s upwards of 60% of waste that people throw away is food scraps, so by getting that material out of the waste, we won’t be paying to have it shipped off,” he said. “On the environmental side of it, food that’s composted doesn’t create methane the same way that food in a landfill does. More directly, when you don’t have food waste in your compactor bins, you have less pests and less odors.”

In addition to showcasing the new food recycling program Saturday, the town will also hold a food drive for Regional School Unit 38’s Maranacook Area Food Pantry.

“That food pantry has really taken off as a result of the pandemic,” Dyer said. “They’ve filled a really important gap for a lot of people, and it just started off as a school-based program for the RSU, but eventually they were out every week handing out meals to whoever needed them, and anybody could stop by and get what they needed. It’s been fantastic seeing that program grow and flourish.”

While the food recycling facility will be ongoing, Dyer said that after the kickoff event any food donations should go directly to the Maranacook Area Food Pantry.

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