2015-05-08 / Front Page

Curbside compost plan is in place

By Duke Harrington Staff Writer

Jeremy Obptande, general manager of the Port Inn on Route 1 in Kennebunk, and Kaitlyn Morse, sales and brand ambassador for Portland-based We Compost It! load one of the company’s composting buckets in preparation for the new service, set to start Mother’s Day weekend. (Duke Harrington photo) Jeremy Obptande, general manager of the Port Inn on Route 1 in Kennebunk, and Kaitlyn Morse, sales and brand ambassador for Portland-based We Compost It! load one of the company’s composting buckets in preparation for the new service, set to start Mother’s Day weekend. (Duke Harrington photo) KENNEBUNK — Curbside composting is coming to Kennebunk in what is described as a first-in-the-state program.

Although residential composting services are offered in cities and towns across Maine, the program slated to start this month in Kennebunk is the first to be offered under a municipal contract.

“This idea really came out of our Energy Efficiency Committee,” Town Manager Barry Tibbetts said on Monday. “They completed the research on what services were available. We sat down with them a couple of times to determine, depending on pricing, what could fit in the budget.”

As it turns out, the new service will have no impact on the municipal budget. The program will run on a subscription model, with residents who choose to participate paying $8.26 per month for weekly pick-up of organic materials.

According to Kaitlyn Morse, sales and brand manager for Portland-based We Compost It!, accepted materials include paper, even newsprint, so long as there is no glue or sticky residue such as on an envelope.

“That’s one thing we actually encourage people to do, to line the five-gallon composting bucket we provide with newspaper, so that it remains clean, because we don’t swab out buckets,” Morse said. “That’s one of the ways we are able to provide such great pricing on our service.”

In addition to the large bucket, We Compost It! also will provide customers with a smaller caddy to keep on or under the kitchen sink.

We Compost It! won out over two other firms that bid on the Kennebunk program. According to Tibbetts, with the service spelled out in the bid specs, the deciding factor came down to price, with We Compost It! willing to work for the lowest fee to the resident. It also required the fewest number of customers — just 100 — to begin the service, Tibbetts said.

According to Morse, We Compost It! will begin servicing commercial accounts in Kennebunk on Mother’s Day Weekend. That’s a separate service from the town contract, but one highly anticipated by many local businesses.

“We put in a lot of other green initiatives when we renovated and reopened the motel in 2013, ” said Jeremy Obptande, general manager of the Port Inn, located on Route 1. “We put in LED lighting and occupancy sensors in all of our rooms to control heating and cooling. This was a great thing to complement all of the other things we are already doing to kind of help the environment and reduce our carbon footprint.

“This will actually help to reduce our trash bills at a very minimal cost,” Obptande said. “It may actually save us in the long run compared to what we pay for a commercial hauler. I would recommend this service to anyone. It’s awesome.”

The residential service should begin “a couple of weeks” after the commercial service starts,” Morse said.

“We have set a goal of reaching the 100 households by the middle of May,” Morse said, adding that her company is excited at the prospect.

“Nobody in the entire state has done curbside composting from a municipal level,” she said. “This is the first time that will happen. This is the first time that a town in the state has issued a bid to a company.”

We Compost It! began five years ago to take compostable material from Portland area restaurants. The concept began as a master’s thesis authored by Brett Richardson while he was a student at the Muskie School of Public Policy. In his thesis, Richardson described how a restaurant composting program might work, along with the benefits of such a program. That paper was so good it won Richardson an award for business building from the University of Maine.

“The grant was actually substantial enough that they could actually begin the company,” Morse said

We Compost It! takes the material it hauls to a commercial composting facility co-located in Poland and Auburn on the recycling campus owned by MB Bark, LLC, a division of CPRC Group, LLC. That site, one of the largest of its kind in Northern New England, can process up to 1,200 tons of food waste per month. We Compost It! customers are then able to get 15-pound bags of compost for just $1 each.

In addition to commercial accounts, We Compost It! serves residential customers in Brunswick and, as of late April, Portland. However, what makes the Kennebunk program different is that the town was offered an exclusive deal. A good analogy is to think of it like a contract to provide cable television service, Tibbetts said, just minus the franchise fee.

“We’re not going to have anyone else in there competing with them,” Tibbetts said. “They are the ones who will offer the residential home subscription service.”

The town’s contract with We Compost It! runs for 10 years.

“We found that just as a general rule, you can’t, on residential curbside collection, get vendors who want to pour $145,000 into a truck and manpower and everything else for anything less than seven years, and they really want 10 or 15,” Tibbetts said. “Otherwise, it’s just not cost efficient for them. I get that. It’s a big investment for them.”

While Kennebunk is not charging We Compost It! a franchise fee, or otherwise collecting on the service, it does hope to save on the tipping fees to have waste hauled from the transfer station of Sea Road.

According to Richardson, on average, Maine households currently throw away up to 40 percent of their food. Meanwhile, organic materials comprise more than 35 percent of the average household’s total waste stream.

As more and more residents choose the composting option, that should lower the weight, and therefore the cost, of the town’s solid waste collection. But exactly how much the town might save remains an unknown.

“We’ve not run those numbers,” Tibbetts said, “but in general it’s going to save the homeowner directly because of the payas you-throw program. For example, if I’m not putting compostable material into the trash, then I’m not buying as many bags. There’s a direct cost savings there back to the residents.”

When awarding the bids to manage the transfer station – a new service is slated to take charge of the facility July 1 — selectmen briefly flirted with the idea of dumping the pay-as-you-throw program in favor of spreading the cost of the new contract across the total tax base.

Ultimately, the program remained. Still, with large trash bags mandated by the town costing $15 for a package of five, a resident only has to reduce waste by three bags per month to make the composting subscription pay for itself — something that should be easy to do, according to Richardson’s figures.

In places where We Compost It! does not have a municipal exclusive, the service costs closer to $10 per month.

“It’s that exclusivity that allowed us to lower the price to just $8.26 per month,” Morse said. “We’re very happy to be in Kennebunk and very excited to get started.”

Kennebunk residents interested in joining the new composting program can sign-up online at www.wecompostit.com/kbk/curbside.

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