By Alex Lippa
---- — When Michael Saucier picks up his clients’ trash, he is appalled at what he sees.
“There was just so much food in each of my customer’s trash,” said Saucier, who owns Stateline Waste Management in Windham. “I figured there had to be something better to do with it than putting it into a landfill.”
Saucier is now one of the companies in the area who recycle food waste commercially.
More than 36 million tons of food waste is generated each year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Only 4 percent of that was diverted from landfills or incinerators.
“It’s a major priority for us,” said Christine Beling, a project engineer with the EPA in Boston. “It’s a valuable resource and can be a benefit both economically and environmentally.”
Doug Kemp, a waste management specialist with the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services, estimated 20 percent of municipal solid waste is food.
But finding composters to take the waste isn’t easy, he said.
“We only have six or eight permitted composters in New Hampshire,” Kemp said. “Several of those don’t even take food waste, because they just wouldn’t get enough.”
The EPA recommends two methods of disposing of food waste. The first is taking it to a composter, the other is taking it to a farm to feed animals, which is what Saucier does.
“I give it to Willowdale Farm in Tyngsboro,” Saucier said. “They use it to feed it to their cows, horses and pigs.”
He collects about 3,000 tons a week from restaurants, bakeries, even the Pelham School District.
“They contacted us before this (school) year,” said Kelly Rambeau, Pelham’s food service director. “In my previous job, we had done composting, so I thought it would be a good idea to bring it into our district.”
Cafeteria workers at Pelham Elementary and Pelham Memorial have started recycling food waste. Next year, they will set up a bin at each of the schools and have the students recycle the food themselves.
“You do have to learn and have a trial period of what goes in the waste bin and what goes in the other bin,” Rambeau said. “You can’t just put a bin out there. They need to know some of the background of where it’s going and the benefits of doing it. It’s going to be a learning curve, but for now we are starting it in the kitchen.”
Saucier said he collects between 400 and 600 pounds of food waste each week from the Pelham School District.
Saucier also has commercial customers in Windham, Derry and Salem, but he said it’s been difficult to find businesses to participate.
“A lot of businesses don’t save money by doing it,” he said. “It’s hard to convince a business owner to recycle if it won’t save them money. Some people just want to recycle. But others say they’d love to, but only if they would save money by doing it..”
Saucier said he charges $10 to pick up 35 gallons of food waste.
In January, he hopes to expand his food waste recycling service to his residential customers.
“I sent out the emails last week,” he said. “About 20 to 30 people have said they would be interested, but it’s not something the masses are interested in. I feel like it’s something you will see more and more of in the coming years.”
Massachusetts has announced a plan to mandate all commercial food waste be composted starting in July. Vermont hopes to do the same with all food waste by 2020.
But no such plans exist in New Hampshire — yet.
“It wasn’t in the legislation last year, and it hasn’t been yet this year,” Kemp said. “It’s something that definitely has its benefits. The best thing to do would be to not waste the food to begin with.”
In 2011, the EPA started the Food Recovery Challenge, which invites organizations nationwide to reduce the amount of food they buy and throw out, and to divert surplus food to feed people. More than 50 schools, hospitals and businesses participate in the challenge, including Parkland Medical Center in Derry.
“It’s part of our Healthy Hospital Initiative program,” said Peggy Connors, director of food and nutrition services at Parkland Medical Center. “It’s the right thing to do.”
Connors said Waste Management picks up Parkland’s food waste each week and delivers it to Brick Ends Farm, a composting facility in Hamilton, Mass. Connors said the hospital produces about 64 gallons a week of food waste.
Beling said she believes recycling food will only grow.
“It’s still relatively new,” she said. “But it is burgeoning in many places and I believe it will continue to grow.”