FARMINGTON — Unity College representatives got some lessons in composting during a recent visit to the University of Maine at Farmington, where 9.12 tons of food waste are generated annually.

“We recycle everything our local regional center takes but what we don’t do well yet is composting,” Martin Maines, Unity recycling coordinator, said. “We heard through state planners that UMF is a great facility that composts well, so we came to learn from them.”

“Each of us creates four-and-a-half pounds of waste each day,” Bruce White from the State Planning Office told the gathering Thursday. Attendees included Unity’s recycling coordinator and students from its Sustainable crew, staff from UMF’s dining service, Aramark, and members of UMF’s Sustainable Campus Coalition.

A previous attempt to compost food waste at Unity resulted in a vermin issue, namely rats, so Maines and three work-study students are exploring how to do it better. One way is an in-vessel composting system where biodegradable waste is broken down in a tank that allows air-flow and temperature control, he said.

Some of these systems can cost up to $60,000 so Maines is looking at potential grants to help offset the costs.

The school has worked with farmers involved with the Maine Organic Farmer Growers Association on food waste. Unite College also wants to be “a leader and educator” for the rural towns surrounding Unity, he said.

In the early days of starting a composting system for Sandy River Recycling Association, Ron Slater would haul small buckets of waste from the UMF dining service to the recycling site on the Farmington Falls Road. After dumping the waste, he’d wash the buckets and return them to Aramark, White said.

“Slater started it all with backyard composting,” he said. “He started giving classes on composting 20 years ago.”

Along with UMF, food waste is collected from Mallett School and may eventually be collected from the new Mt. Blue High School.

Now 60-gallon tote bins with plastic bag linings allow for better control as kitchen personnel dump pre- and post-consumer food substances, Erin Fletcher of Aramark explained. The “pre” portion includes vegetable peelings, while the “post” is food left on returned plates.

Use of the garbage disposal in the kitchen sink is over. The dining service has also gone “trayless” and is seeing a difference in waste from that, she said.

Piled high on a cement pad, the large quantity of compost and heat involved at the Sandy River recycling site allows the school to include meat and even biodegradable napkins and paper products in the composting.

“Around here (the SRRA site) turkeys become a real problem,” White said. “The size and heat helps. The pile doesn’t draw vermin.”

The recipe is tested for carbon and nitrogen levels frequently to see what breaks down foods, White said.

For the past 21 years, the nonprofit recycling association has collected, processed and marketed the recyclable wastes of its 21 member towns and plantations, according to its website.

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