Lebanon landfill tries pilot program for household food scraps

  • Nik Fiore, of Lebanon, is in his first week tracking the weight of his food scraps, recyclables and trash as part of a four-month program to establish the amount of food waste entering the Lebanon landfill. Fifty households are participating in the effort to help determine if the city will beging accepting residential food scraps. Fiore collects compost in a five-gallon bucket after preparing ingredients for his dinner Friday, Jan. 17, 2020. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • The waste from preparing ingredients for their dinner is collected in a bowl in the kitchen of Nik and Sherry Fiore, of Lebanon, N.H., Friday, Jan. 17, 2020. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Sherry Fiore, left, and her husband Nik, of Lebanon, cook dinner together Friday, Jan. 17, 2020, collecting food scraps to be composted as they work. They are one of 50 households tracking the weight of compostable waste, recyclables and trash to help the Lebanon landfill establish whether to accept residential food scraps in addition to the scraps from a few local businesses. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 1/18/2020 8:49:18 PM
Modified: 1/18/2020 8:48:21 PM

LEBANON — The city’s landfill is exploring whether to accept residential food scraps at the Route 12A facility as a way to reduce waste and potentially expand its life span.

The landfill this week kicked off a pilot program officials say will help determine the nearly 40-acre site can expand its existing food scrap program to residents.

“What we’re hoping to get out of this is to find out how much of our waste is food scraps,” Marc Morgan, Lebanon’s solid waste manager, said Thursday.

The city already accepts food scraps from businesses but, Morgan said, residents have long clamored for the option as well. Logistics have largely been the reason for the delay, he said.

“We’ve been doing this for a while and we wanted to expand it to residents,” Morgan said. “The biggest thing is those are a few customers compared to 200.”

Lebanon’s pilot program asks 50 households to track their waste, food scraps and recyclables over three months to figure out how much each material contributes to people’s weekly drop-offs.

“It’s pretty simple. You’re throwing (trash) in one place instead of another,” said Lebanon resident Nik Fiore, who is participating in the program.

Fiore said he recently bought a 5-gallon bucket and some compostable trash bags. When making meals, he keeps a small bowl out and all the food scraps — coffee grounds, eggshells and even some types of paper products — go in there until they’re transferred to the bucket, which ultimately goes to the landfill.

“We like it because we’re reducing volume in the landfill because it’s a finite resource,” he said.

Along with reducing overall waste, the program serves the dual purpose of cutting costs. Instead of going into the ground like regular trash, the food scraps would be composted and turned into material the landfill needs anyway, Morgan said.

“According to state rules, we’re obliged to cover the landfill and make sure vegetation can grow,” Morgan said. “We could purchase the topsoil and cover areas with topsoil, or we can manufacture it ourselves.”

Last year, the landfill accepted a combined 500 tons of food scraps from Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center and Dartmouth College, he said. Meanwhile, Lebanon-based Nordic Waste Systems recently began offering curbside collection of food scraps. All the businesses’ scraps are dropped off at the landfill and composted.

The landfill’s relationship with those companies makes resolving problems easy, Morgan said. For instance, if a piece of garbage makes its way into the food scraps, staff can call up the company that dropped the waste off and work through issues.

That’s not so simple when it’s residents bringing food scraps during busy weekend hours, he said.

Still, accepting food scraps has the potential to benefit the landfill by reducing the amount of waste placed in the ground and expanding the facility’s life span.

The Natural Resources Defense Council estimates that 21% of the waste delivered to U.S. landfills is food. Morgan estimates that amounts to 8,400 tons of food scraps in Lebanon.

The move to accept food scraps is one already happening in Vermont, where Act 148, the state’s universal recycling law, mandates that all transfer stations accept the material. The same law will require residents to separate out such waste in July.

People can drop off food scraps at transfer stations in Hartford, Thetford and Norwich, according to Ham Gillett, program and outreach coordinator for the 10-town Greater Upper Valley Solid Waste Management District.

Temporary trash and recycling collection, or “fast trash” sites in Bridgewater, Hartland and Woodstock also accept food scraps, he added, warning that fees and rules for the waste are different in every town.

The solid waste district also has sponsored backyard composting workshops to help Vermonters transition to separating food scraps.

“I’m noticing a lot more activity in my email,” Gillett said of food scraps. “I think a lot of people are hopefully becoming more aware the (Act 148) deadline is looming.”

Interest in composting food scraps has picked up in recent years, but it is a learning process, said Jen Murphy, who recently started the Wilder business Willow Tree Community Compost.

“For most of the people I’ve talked to, if they’re not composting, they feel like they don’t have the space or the knowledge,” said Murphy, whose small business offered curbside pickup in Hartford.

The compost she makes goes to community farms and Sunrise Farm in White River Junction.

Her customers like the idea of composting and keeping waste out of landfills “but weren’t sure there was a good way of doing it,” Murphy said.

Lebanon’s food scraps pilot program is scheduled to end in April. Morgan, the city’s solid waste manager, said he will then assess what kind of a program, if any, will be created.

Tim Camerato can be reached at tcamerato@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.

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