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Havre de Grace Compost Center has surpassed expectations since opening

Trisha Tatam-McQuate, of Havre de Grace, deposits a food waste into collecting bins at the city's new compost center twice a week. About 700 pounds of food waste a week are collected from residents to be recycle into compost.
Trisha Tatam-McQuate, of Havre de Grace, deposits a food waste into collecting bins at the city's new compost center twice a week. About 700 pounds of food waste a week are collected from residents to be recycle into compost. (Kenneth K. Lam)

Carrot tops. Avocado peels. Squash rinds. Jeff Hinte handles them all with care, saving food scraps in one-gallon containers on the kitchen counter athis home in Havre de Grace. Several times a week, Hinte packs up the glop and delivers it to the town’s food waste disposal facility, to be turned into compost for gardens and such.

Big deal, you say? Do the math, he says.

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Carol Zimmerman, president of the Havre de Grace Green Team deposits a bag of food waste into collecting bins at the city's new compost center.
Carol Zimmerman, president of the Havre de Grace Green Team deposits a bag of food waste into collecting bins at the city's new compost center. (Kenneth K. Lam)

“That’s three buckets full of stuff that’s not going into the landfill, and turning it into something that has another chance of being used,” says Hinte, 65. “To me, it’s almost calming, knowing this stuff isn’t going into a big hole somewhere.”

Opened in June, the Havre de Grace Compost Center has surpassed expectations, averaging 700 pounds of food waste each week.

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“We’d hoped for 1,000 pounds a month, but we’ve easily surpassed that,” says Danielle Wolfe, chairperson of the Zero Waste initiative for the Havre de Grace Green Team, a nonprofit environmental organization. Two years in the making, the recycling pilot program is the lone municipal-based compost center in Harford County.

Open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily, the center consists of four bins in a fenced enclosure at Hutchins Memorial Park, where residents can drop off their food scraps — everything from banana peels and bread crusts to melon rinds and meat bones. Once a week, Veteran Compost, of Aberdeen, collects the waste, mixes it with wood chips and lets it “cook” in aerated heaps for several months before curing, screening and selling the compost commercially.

Pizza boxes are also accepted and are “a real boon,” says Hinte, who collects the cardboard containers from neighbors and hauls them along with his scraps.

Havre de Grace's new compost center collects about 700 pounds of food waste a week from residents to be recycled into compost.
Havre de Grace's new compost center collects about 700 pounds of food waste a week from residents to be recycled into compost. (Kenneth K. Lam)

“People order a lot of pizzas during a pandemic, and the boxes pile up, three and four at a time,” he says. “This is a nice way to do something with them.”

Not coincidentally, the compost center abuts the town’s farmers market, so residents like Hinte can dispose of their old waste before buying fresh produce during the market’s season.

“It completes the circle of use,” says Hinte, who admits that he’s still ingraining the system as second nature.

“There are times when, by force of habit, I’ll start to put carrot tops in the garbage disposal, then say ‘Rats!’ and scoop them out of the sink.”

It’s a mindset whose time is past due, says Carol Zimmerman, president of the Havre de Grace Green Team.

Jeff Hinte, of Havre de Grace, deposits food waste into collecting bins at the city's new compost center.
Jeff Hinte, of Havre de Grace, deposits food waste into collecting bins at the city's new compost center. (Kenneth K. Lam)

“These [table] scraps are a resource and not some hideous stuff that needs to be buried in landfills,” she says. “Food waste can be turned into brown gold to put nutrients back in the soil. It should be treated with respect, not tossed idly aside.”

The empty coffee containers line up by the sink in Sue Capp’s kitchen — Folger’s here, Maxwell House there. Into each go the discards of the day: onion skins, cucumber butts, eggshells and, yes, even coffee grounds.

“We eat a lot of fresh vegetables, and I may have five containers to take [to the center] every couple of days on my way to yoga class,” says Capp, 64, of Havre de Grace.

There, as she empties her waste into the compost bin, she is greeted by a pile of rotting corn husks, moldy cantaloupe skins and “a few flies that pop out. But that’s nature,” she says.

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“I do this because it’s a worthwhile endeavor and the right thing to do," Capp says. "To me, every day is Earth Day; that’s my motto.”

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