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May 2, 2016 On the record

MaineHealth's Green Team turns system's food waste into compost

Photo / James McCarthy Richard Veilleux, program manager at MaineHealth and a member of the health system's Green Team, accepts a shovelful of compost from Tyler Gleason of We Compost It! during a pre-Earth Day event at MaineHealth's corporate office at 110 Free St. in Portland.

As program manager at MaineHealth, Richard Veilleux focuses on health care quality improvement. But he also volunteers with MaineHealth's Green Team, a grassroots employee effort to recycle and compost waste produced in the Portland-based health care system. At a pre-Earth Day celebration on April 19 at MaineHealth's corporate office, he happily passed out bags and buckets of compost to employees.

Six MaineHealth member organizations and affiliates compost through We Compost It!: Maine Medical Center, Spring Harbor Hospital, Southern Maine Health Care, Stephens Memorial Hospital, Mid Coast Hospital and St. Mary's Regional Medical Center., as well as MaineHealth's corporate office and Maine Medical Partners' practice at 887 Congress St. In 2015, MaineHealth members and organizations diverted over 235 tons of organics from the waste stream, generating approximately 250 yards of compost approved by the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association for use on certified organic growing soils.

We Compost It!, a Portland-based company founded in 2011, collects food waste and other organics from a client base of more than 100 restaurants, seven hospitals, 37 schools and a number of food processors, universities and corporate cafeterias in Maine. It also provides a residential curbside compost service in Portland, South Portland, Biddeford, Brunswick, Cape Elizabeth, Falmouth, Freeport, Kennebunk, Saco and Westbrook in which customers pay a monthly fee to be members and receive five-gallon buckets of compost per week.

Mainebiz spoke with Veilleux and Emily Kain, program manager with Community Health Improvements, a division of MaineHealth, about the health system's composting initiative. Here's an edited transcript.

Mainebiz: Tell us about your compost program.

Richard Veilleux: In June 2014 we started composting with We Compost It! We figure we're reducing the amount of trash further by more than half a ton a year here at 110 Free St. — turning food waste and house plants and cut flowers into compost.

MB: These are items that otherwise would have gone to a landfill?

RV: They would have gone into the trash either to be burned or buried. With Eco-Maine it mostly would have been burned. It's the heaviest part of the waste stream. It's loaded with moisture, which reduces the efficiency of the burning process, it takes energy to burn it. So, instead we're taking something that was waste and turning it into a valuable product that can then go to enrich soils in vegetable gardens and flower gardens.

MB: What's been the reaction?

RV: The employees are very interested and engaged. The general response is that this makes so much sense. Instead of producing waste, we're producing something of value.

MB: Why are you doing this on top of your regular job?

RV: Because I hate waste. The commitment of MaineHealth's senior leadership, as well as at Maine Medical Center and our other institutions, is critical. They've seen the value of this, they heard from employees that this is important to us and they support it. So that's a great thing. We have lots more opportunities.

MB: Emily, today you are distributing the compost. Does that happen routinely, or is this a special occasion?

EK: I can't speak for every one of the hospitals, but I do know that Spring Harbor last year around this time had a very similar event to what we're doing here today. We Compost It! brought in a big truckload of compost for employees who wanted some. Maine Medical Center is also providing opportunities for employees to get some compost.

We Compost It! is great about that part of the contract, where they provide compost back to the hospitals so that employees can benefit from the program. And some of our hospitals have gardens, so they will be able to use the compost there too.

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