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Kitchen to compost: Food waste disposal facility opens in Havre de Grace

Carol Zimmerman, left, president of the Havre de Grace Green Team, and City Councilwoman Casi Boyer prepare to deposit the first pieces of kitchen waste in the new Food Waste Disposal site in Hutchins Park following a ribbon-cutting ceremony last Friday. The food waste disposed of there will be converted into compost.
Carol Zimmerman, left, president of the Havre de Grace Green Team, and City Councilwoman Casi Boyer prepare to deposit the first pieces of kitchen waste in the new Food Waste Disposal site in Hutchins Park following a ribbon-cutting ceremony last Friday. The food waste disposed of there will be converted into compost. (David Anderson/The Aegis / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Havre de Grace residents now have a site in the city where they can dispose of their kitchen waste and have it be taken away to be turned into compost.

Mayor William T. Martin, speaking Friday during a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Food Waste Disposal facility in Hutchins Park, said it “fits in perfectly” with the city’s other initiatives to protect the environment. Such initiatives include promoting recycling and community gardens, funding shoreline restoration and stormwater management projects, using electric vehicles and providing stations for others to charge their electric vehicles.

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“I am so happy to have this here,” he said of the food waste facility. “And I really hope the citizens utilize it.”

The Food Waste Disposal facility is off of Congress Avenue near the entrance to Hutchins Park along the Susquehanna River waterfront. The park is the home of the Havre de Grace Famers’ Market, which is open Saturday mornings from May through November, and patrons are encouraged to bring their food waste with them for disposal.

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“As stewards of the Chesapeake Bay and the Susquehanna River, it’s fitting that it’s right here along our shoreline,” Martin said of the drop-off site.

The facility is an initiative of the nonprofit Havre de Grace Green Team, which partnered with the city to establish it as part of the team’s Zero Waste initiative to promote recycling, reuse of materials and reduce the amount of community waste that goes to landfills.

The City Council approved, during its May 4 meeting, a memorandum of understanding between the city and the Green Team for the team to partner with a waste hauler and operate the collection site on city property — Hutchins Park — for up to one year.

“The key now is for the citizens of Havre de Grace to use it, because if you don’t use it then it’s not going to work,” Councilwoman Casi Boyer, the council liaison to the Green Team, said during the ribbon cutting.

The Food Waste facility consists of several green bins secured in a chain-link fence enclosure; they are available to the public from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., seven days a week. The veteran-owned Veteran Compost company, headquartered in Aberdeen, will pick up the waste once a week — the company collects food waste from multiple sites in the Baltimore and Washington, D.C. metropolitan areas and then brings it back to centers in Aberdeen and Fairfax, Virginia to convert into compost.

The compost and other gardening products made by the company are then sold to the public. More information is available on the Veteran Compost website.

There are signs posted on the enclosure describing what can be disposed of for compost, including meat, fruit, vegetable, dairy, bread, pastry scraps, used teabags, coffee grounds, compostable plates and bowls, even pizza boxes. Seafood scraps, such as crab or fish leftovers, are not permitted because of their odor.

This sign, detailing what items are acceptable for disposal, is posted at the new Food Waste Disposal site at Hutchins Park in Havre de Grace. People can drop off food waste at the site, where it will be picked up and converted into compost. The site is the result of a partnership between the city and the Havre de Grace Green Team; representatives of both were on hand for a ribbon-cutting ceremony last Friday.
This sign, detailing what items are acceptable for disposal, is posted at the new Food Waste Disposal site at Hutchins Park in Havre de Grace. People can drop off food waste at the site, where it will be picked up and converted into compost. The site is the result of a partnership between the city and the Havre de Grace Green Team; representatives of both were on hand for a ribbon-cutting ceremony last Friday. (David Anderson/The Aegis / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Other items, such as paper packaging products, fluids, glass, metals, oils and fats, as well as plastic bags, are not permitted either. People who bring their waste in a plastic bag should empty the contents into the bin rather than throw the waste and the bag in together.

Green Team members will be at the Farmers Market for the next few weeks to answer questions. They also will hold raffles with a composting pail as the prize.

Project comes to fruition despite hurdles

Danielle Wolfe, head of the Green Team’s Zero Waste programs, coordinated the development of the food waste disposal site. The project, which came out of discussions between the Green Team and local residents about how Havre de Grace could build on its recycling initiatives, took about a year and a half to come to fruition, according to Wolfe.

“You came up against so many hurdles,” Boyer told Wolfe during the ribbon-cutting. “Every step of the way, there was another wall put up in front of you, but you didn’t allow that to stop you.”

“There were enough people behind you that were cheering you on, that said ‘it’s the right thing to do,’ and you did it,” Boyer added.

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Wolfe later described some of the challenges, such as funding, logistics and “making sure we were setting it up in manner that was going to be effective,” noting that “there was just a ton of planning that went into it.”

The COVID-19 pandemic, and the strict social distancing measures that brought much of community life to a halt for weeks this spring, was a last-minute hurdle that made it very difficult for Green Team members to interact with residents and promote the program.

“It’s hard to launch and run a program in the public when you can’t really be in the public,” Wolfe said.

The team persevered, however. The city supported them by providing the enclosure, allowing the program to operate at the park, plus it will provide security. The Green Team will cover the cost of Veteran Compost’s hauling fees for the first six months, after which time the team will review data about how the program is working, according to Wolfe.

She praised Boyer for working with the team “every step of the way,” as well as the mayor and his staff, noting the city administration was “great at problem solving as we did go along.”

About 30 to 40 percent of the food supply ends up as waste, but redirecting that waste to being composted removes it from landfills, and it reduces the amount of methane gas that would be generated if the food waste just sat in the landfill decomposing, according to Wolfe.

Diverting food waste gives it “another life as compost — we get something back, and we protect the environment in the process,” Wolfe said.

“We get the ability to capture nutrients from that food,” she added. “Even though nobody has eaten it, it is still serving a purpose."

Boyer praised the members of the Green Team for taking on environmental issues and working with the city to find resolutions rather than simply waiting on the city government to take on the issues.

This apiary was established by the Havre de Grace Green Team last spring near its community garden in Todd Park. The City Council recently granted the Green Team approval to apply for a Bee City USA designation to promote development of habitats for honeybees in the community.
This apiary was established by the Havre de Grace Green Team last spring near its community garden in Todd Park. The City Council recently granted the Green Team approval to apply for a Bee City USA designation to promote development of habitats for honeybees in the community. (David Anderson/The Aegis / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

The council recently approved a resolution authorizing the Green Team to apply for a “Bee City USA” designation for Havre de Grace. Bee City USA is an initiative of the The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, through which communities work to create sustainable habitats for pollinator insects such as honeybees.

The Green Team established last spring an apiary for honeybees, behind its community gardens off of Seneca Avenue in Tood Park. The organization’s Food Forest, filled with food-producing bushes and trees, is in the same location. The forest is meant to provide food to Havre de Grace residents, while educating them about where their food comes from and to “encourage people to interact with their natural environment,” said Carol Zimmerman, president of the Green Team.

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