By Dalton Bouchles, Material Resources Eco-Rep
USM generates approximately 600 tons of trash, recycling and food waste per year. USM’s recycling rate (which is calculated by dividing the total tons of recycling collected/ total tons of recycling + total tons of municipal solid waste – a.k.a. trash) is 55 percent. Although this rate is higher than the average recycling rate for the state of Maine, it tends to fluctuate daily and between campuses.
Currently, Ecomaine is the facility where USM sends its trash and recycling. The trash is incinerated to produce enough electricity to power 15,000 homes per year. The recycling goes through a maze of conveyor belts to be sorted based on the type of material, such as plastics, paper or metal. Once sorted, each type is crushed into a two-ton cube and is sold on the commodities market to companies that will create new items out of our old stuff! The value of these cubes or bales fluctuates depending on the market.
Food waste on the other hand, is hauled to Exeter Agri-Energy in Exeter, ME, where it is put into an anaerobic digester to be broken down with cow manure. This breakdown creates fertilizer for farm fields, animal bedding and electricity. This process is a part of a full food circle that we can be proud to be a part of.
While most of the campuses are consistent with waste generation, it is the residence halls that have the most fluctuation in what is thrown away or recycled. One student may buy water bottles monthly while another might purchase a lot of food in wrappers. I live in Upperclass Hall on the first floor. My experience living there has inspired me to take action to divert more materials from incineration and the landfill. I chose to recover food waste from going into the trash because food waste, like recyclables, is a valuable resource to our economy and has several higher uses.
On March 5 I implemented a pilot program. Each dorm room on the first floor of Upperclass Hall received a small green bin with a cover and a bag inside for students to collect their food waste in. When the bin is full, it can be brought to the first floor recycling room and dumped in the food waste collection bin. Each day I record the weight of the bin. This program will continue through the end of the semester upon which I will compile all my data, speak to floor residents, and create a report to summarize what I did and what I recommend for next steps.
One of USM’s sustainability goals is to increase waste diversion to 70 percent by 2020, which includes diverting food waste and recycling from the trash. You can do your part to help USM reach its goal by knowing what can and cannot be recycled, always taking the time to put your waste in the correct bins around campus and in the Woodbury Café. To learn what can and cannot go in each bin, you can visit usm.maine.edu/sustainability to learn more.