Mainers produced 632 tons of food waste a day last year – almost a pound of apple cores, rotten vegetables, spoiled yogurt and meat trimmings a day for every person in the state. Three-quarters of Maine’s food waste goes to landfills or incinerators. Less than a quarter is diverted to compost, and only 5 percent is captured as edible food distributed to the hungry, according to a 2018 legislative report.
There is a push to shift that waste to compost farms and biomass boilers, to improve recycling rates and reduce the trash Mainers have going into landfills. But early growth for private companies specializing in food waste disposal has stalled, as firms compete for a shrinking pool of garbage in southern Maine. Companies have already snapped up commercial and residential clients on profitable collection routes.
To keep growing, some companies are bringing waste in from new out-of-state customers. “They probably have mostly all saturated the bigger customers on the Interstate 95 corridor from Kennebunk to Augusta,” said Travis Blackmer, a University of Maine economist who researches the solid waste industry.
That helps explain why fewer than 10 food waste collection companies operate in the state, and why no companies serve huge parts of Maine, including Lewiston and Bangor, the state’s second and third biggest cities, he theorizes. Without municipally-funded programs to collect residential food waste, the market will likely stay small and concentrated in southern Maine, Blackmer said. “Municipal curbside collection is the growth model for composting,” he said. “We might be two years away from that, five years away – it may never come.”