Hamilton-Wenham Collects Food Scrap Curbside

By KAT FRIEDRICH/ecoRI News contributor

The first curbside food-scrap program in Massachusetts, operating in Hamilton and Wenham, is planting seeds to help other programs in the state grow. The curbside collection of food scrap will likely be required throughout the state sometime during the next decade, according to Hamilton town manager Michael Lombardo.

About 150 municipal food-scrap collection programs exist in the United States today, according to Yale Environment 360. These composting programs are now thriving in cities such as San Francisco and Seattle. But, there is a long way to go before such programs become standard nationwide.

Lombardo said he encourages other Massachusetts cities and towns to take the initiative and start a food-scrap collection program, before the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) compels them to do so. He said Ipswich is now running a pilot program.

“Be bold and don’t be afraid,” Lombardo said. “It’s the way the waste world is going. Don’t be afraid to get it started — even on a pilot basis.”

The Hamilton-Wenham program began in 2009 with a pilot phase, in which some 400 households participated, according to Lombardo. Homeowners paid $75 a year to support the program. Since 2011, the program has been free and voluntary. It even has a Facebook page.

About 50 percent of the households in the two northeastern Massachusetts towns have opted into the program, Lombardo said. Although homeowners are not required to participate, they can save money by composting since there is a bag fee for part of their garbage collection.

Residents who compost their food scrap also are saving tax dollars for their communities. Lombardo estimated Hamilton is composting 470 tons annually and saving a modest amount of money by doing so.

“I would love to see 80 to 90 percent of households, if not 100 percent, composting,” Lombardo said. “It really is quite easy to do if you take an open mind toward the program. It really is not much of a behavioral change.”

Participating residents receive one bin for recycling, one bin for trash and one bin for compost. They can compost meat, paper towels, vegetables, coffee grounds and grains, but not grass clippings or oyster shells. Lombardo said they can freeze meat products if they are concerned about flies producing maggots in the compost bin.

Lombardo said he uses compost from the program for his own garden. “The compost we’re getting from the program is tremendously high quality,” he said. “Flowers and vegetables flourish in it.”

Residents can request up to a cubic yard of free compost at public works yards. They can also buy larger quantities. Brick Ends Farm processes the compost from both towns.