Mashpee Department of Public Works unveiled a new composting program for residents Tuesday, April 14, in an effort to reduce the amount of waste generated and to save the town money. Food waste brought to the transfer station by Mashpee residents at no charge will be retrieved weekly from the Asher’s Path facility by a small compost company and delivered to a farm in West Falmouth where it will help Christmas trees grow, instead of filling a landfill.
The program is aligned with the town’s effort to educate the public on the cost of waste disposal and efforts to meet a rising, waste-disposal fee.
Over 20 percent of waste in a general waste stream comes from food waste, according to state studies. To remove that 20 percent would save the town money and turn the materials into usable products, said DPW director Catherine E. Laurent.
The program is expected to start within the next two weeks. Two green, 30-gallon barrels with the words “Compost with Me” written in white letters will be placed in a newly installed shed near the single stream and cardboard recycling area of the transfer station. The barrels are arraigned to be picked up weekly.
Residents can dispose of a long list of discarded food scraps, including meats and bones, vegetable and fruit waste, dairy products, eggshells, fish, grains, nut shells, paper napkins, pasta, pizza boxes, pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds, shellfish and shells, tea bags, coffee grounds and filters, tofu and soy milk.
Grease, fat or oil; walnut shells, which may be toxic to some plants and animals; diseased plants; human or pet waste and kitty litter are not allowed in the compost barrels.
If the program proves successful and the bins continue to be filled, more green barrels will be added at the transfer station.
Eventually, Ms. Laurent hopes to include Mashpee schools in the program. She said that school dumpsters are emptied daily. If food waste was recycled, and the amount of times the dumpsters emptied was reduced to even once every two weeks, the savings would be beneficial to the town, she said.
The cost to hire a company to operate the compost program at the transfer station is $150 a month.
The town also received a one-year, drop-off recycling/organics equipment grant from Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection for $1,500 to pay for Compost with Me. “This program helps reduce the waste stream in town and it provides a needed service for the recycling of compostable material,” said DEP spokesman Joseph M. Ferson.
The first 250 residents who request a two-gallon scrap bucket to temporarily store their food waste will receive one free from the town. Additional residents can purchase them for $5 from the DPW, although Ms. Laurent said that any container can be used. She uses a ceramic disposal container with a charcoal filter at her home.
Mary Bunker Ryther of Falmouth is the owner and operator of Compost with Me, the company hired by the town to retrieve the food waste. Ms. Ryther drives a white pick-up truck with a 500-pound lift strapped to the back that hauls these barrels of compost. She drives the food waste to her family farm, Bunker Tree Farm in West Falmouth, where she composts the material and uses it to fertilize Christmas trees. The tree farm has been in her family since 1948.
It is “closing the loop,” the sustainably conscious business owner said of her composting program. Scraps from food that is produced locally helps produce more locally grown food and other products as a nutrient-rich compost instead of ending in a landfill off-Cape—that is “closing the loop,” she said. Scraps from a red pepper, for example, that is sold at a farmers market can help produce more locally produced vegetables. “It makes sense,” she said.
The locally produced compost allows a farmer to fertilize vegetation without chemicals, Ms. Ryther said. Compost helps soil retain water, which is important for farming in the sandy soil structure on Cape Cod, she said.
Her company has about 25 residential clients and a handful of restaurants and institutions such as the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and the Landfall Restaurant, and now, thanks to the efforts of Ms. Laurent and the town, a municipality. Mashpee, Ms. Ryther said, is ahead of the curve in the region and is one of only a handful of cities and towns in the state to enact a similar program. “It is progressive,” she said.
Ms. Ryther’s parents composted when she was younger. She said she has recently seen a shift in public perception and more and more composting efforts come about. She said that the older generation has been slow to come around but that the younger generation at least understands the benefits. While visiting colleges with her two sons, she found that most offered some sort of composting incentive.
She said that like anything new, it is a challenge to change people’s habits but she is hopeful the composting efforts in Mashpee will catch on.
Recycling bottles and cans, she said, was not commonplace until only recently. “I would guess that in 10 years, everyone will compost,” she said.
Ms. Ryther has operated her business for about a year. In March last year she “earned her wings” through the US Composting Council, a nonprofit lobbying and educational group. She had been in the architectural industry 25 years prior to starting the company.
With the addition of Mashpee to her roster of clients, she will better understand the parameters of working with a municipality and will look to other towns to offer her service.