Category Archives: Uncategorized

Use This, Not That! (Holiday Edition)

By Katrina Bussiere-Venhuizen

This holiday season, you want to be more ecologically mindful but, between thinking about whether to serve holiday meals on real or paper plates, mulling over the debate of whether to buy gifts from the store down the street or from Amazon’s one-click simplicity, consider some of these “Use This, Not That!” options for a Greener holiday!

  • Bring some flair and smiles to your morning mint hot chocolate or coffee routine by carrying your favorite new mug everywhere you go.  Ask for a hand-made mug from a local artist this holiday season to boost the local economy and cut down on waste we all create each day.  Or go for something like Kleen Kanteen’s insulated travel mug and slap on stickers from your favorite breweries, coffee shops and businesses.  You’ll never want to leave home without it.
  • And speaking of buying local, even though it’s super convenient to order everything online these days, consider bringing cheer to friends and family with locally sourced gifts.  Maine has a wealth of talent at it won’t take long to find something your picky sister will love.  When you shop locally, the local economy is boosted, and there’s less tricky waste to deal with.
  • Now, let’s talk about food.  You will probably have lots of leftovers from meals with friends and family.  Don’t let it go to waste!  Did you know it is cheaper and healthier to bring your lunch to work or school?  But how can you get that leftover ham sandwich/fruit salad/granola and yogurt/hummus/chocolate-covered cherries there?  Luckily, there are so many options, between Rubbermaid, Pyrex, and others to help you transport your vittles anywhere you need to go, even on a horse-drawn sleigh picnic!   Just don’t forget any necessary utensils and a cloth napkin or two! 
  • How green is your wrapping game?  Do you buy wrapping paper each year or do you use leftover comics, fabric or reused tissue paper?  I keep a drawer of tissue paper, wrapping paper and ribbons from presents past to wrap my present presents.   When I was growing up, my favorite wrapping paper was the comics because not only did I get to have a gift, but I also go to read the funny papers.  Reusing past wrapping helps cut down on unneeded consumption this holiday season.  Or instead of wrapping gifts altogether, make gift boxes or bags from objects you might find around the house, like a cereal box!
  • Finally, why choose paper or plastic when you can bring in your own cloth bags?  Do you love history?  Find out if your local history museum has a bag for sale.  Do you support Maine Audubon and conservation?  Join as a member and get a free cloth bag (mine doubles as a purse, hiking bag, beach bag, etc.).  These bags are easy to wash and can be incredibly useful this holiday season when you’re out shopping locally.  They also make great gifts!  Seek out a couple bags that are from organizations you love, and you will love to tote them around. 

These are just a few ideas of how we can all do a little something to be more sustainable this holiday season.  Go one step further and challenge yourself not to go grocery shopping or to the coffee shop unless you have your bag/mug in-hand.   It will not take long to train your brain to adopt even one of these Use This, Not That tips.  And check out our video tips for sustainable holidays! Soon, you will be on your way to saving endless amounts of oil, trees, electricity, air pollution and even some money (as discounts often apply when you bring in your own coffee mug and grocery bags!). 

Happy holidays, my reduce-reuse-recycle friends!

ecomaine to speak at Great Falls Forum on ‘The Ecology and Economy of Recycling’

Contact: Matt Grondin, Communications Manager

207-523-3108; grondin@ecomaine.org

For immediate release

PORTLAND, MAINE – (October 10, 2019) Amid a turbulent year for recycling markets and questions about the future of the industry, ecomaine Environmental Educator Katrina Bussiere Venhuizen will speak at the Lewiston Public Library’s Great Falls Forum on a panel titled ‘The Ecology and Economy of Recycling.’

Moderated by the Lewiston Sun Journal’s Lindsay Tice, Venhuizen will be joined by the City of South Portland’s Sustainability Director, Julie Rosenbach, and Sarah Lakeman, Sustainable Maine Project Director at the Natural Resources Council of Maine.

“Recycling has come under intense scrutiny over the past year,” said Kevin Roche, ecomaine’s CEO.  “I am greatly looking forward to ecomaine being a part of this important discussion and showcasing ecomaine’s commitment to a long-term vision for municipal recycling.  As some communities have abandoned their programs, ecomaine continues to see success and reasons for great optimism in the industry – I’m eager for Katrina to share this outlook.”

The Great Falls Forum will take place on Thursday, October 17 at noon at the Lewiston Public Library, at 200 Lisbon Street.  The program is free, with no reservations required.  Bring-your-own bagged lunch is encouraged, and coffee, tea, and water will be available.

About ecomaine & the Great Falls Forum

ecomaine is the Portland-based nonprofit, recycling and waste-to-energy operation that serves a third of the state’s population in more than 70 member communities.

The Great Falls Forum is a monthly, brown-bag speaker series featuring statewide and regional leaders in public policy, business, academia and the arts. The Forum is a co-sponsorship of the Sun Journal, Bates College, and the Lewiston Public Library.

###

What is the “Waste Hierarchy” and what does it mean for Mainers?

Everyone has heard the mantra called out by environmentalists everywhere – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle! Since the first grade, many of us have recited the three R’s when it comes to dealing with our trash, but did you know that those three words are part of a much larger picture?

Here’s a little background information:

The State of Maine established a law in 1989 called the Solid Waste Management and Recycling Act, to guide state and local decisions about how we deal with our household and commercial waste. This law created a hierarchy of how materials should be disposed of, and set goals to recycle more materials to save them from a lifetime in the landfill, and aligned with a similar model set by the Environmental Protection Agency. You can find more information about the State of Maine’s Waste Management and Recycling Plan here.

Before recycling, composting, and Waste-to-Energy was possible, all of our waste took up space in landfills. Hundreds of thousands of tons were stored in the ground, and much of that waste is still there, completely undisturbed. Once landfills are filled and “capped” to contain the mess, the trash inside is largely preserved without any air to help break it down. Deep within these trash mountains, highly flammable methane gases are produced from bacteria in the trash and can be released into the air – and methane traps up to 72 times more heat in the atmosphere than CO2 over a 20 year period. Methane is emitted through the process of making fossil fuels, farming and livestock, biomass burning, and what we throw away in landfills.

What exactly are we throwing away? A study completed in 2011 from the University of Maine estimates that our trash is made up of mostly recoverable materials:

27.78% food waste
1.48% yard waste
25.57% paper
13.44% plastics
2.71% glass
3.26% metal
0.92% e-waste
1.14% wood (treated and untreated)

If you’re counting, that amounts to more than 76% of our total waste!

 

The Waste Hierarchy has become a policy to send less materials to the landfill, but how can we practice this in our daily routines? Over the next six months, we will unpack each tier of the hierarchy and discuss how each of us can make an impact when we Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle our waste.

Blog Post: Get Involved!

ecomaine is fortunate to have a community of passionate supporters who encourage those in their hometowns to frame their waste-reduction and diversion awareness around the Waste Hierarchy. The “Three R’s” –reduce, reuse, recycle—are a well-established standard in green thinking. However, some folks are still new to the concept of including additional practices in the hierarchy; Compost/Anaerobic Digestion and Waste-to-Energy are all ways we can improve our sustainability, keep things out of the landfill and shrink our footprint.

Harnessing these rungs of our “diversion ladder” and using them to frame the way we approach waste management at all levels allows materials that would otherwise be going into our landfills or polluting our oceans to be “pushed up the ladder” and become a part of the circular economy, supporting green living and a sustainable future.

How do we ensure that the Waste Hierarchy is put to broad and continuous use? It is well established that long term environmental balance and a sustainable future can only be achieved through strategic public policy changes. The process of implementing these new or improved local, state and federal policies is galvanized and hurried along most effectively through continuous community buy-in.

That being said; supporting the Waste Hierarchy at the local level through advocacy groups, getting involved in volunteer efforts, joining or founding environmental action committees in your community or school district, speaking at your local town or city council meeting, joining clubs at your university and connecting with the public at sustainability-centric events are all small ways you can have a big impact. Continuous, comprehensive, and extensive individual and community support is the most important thing you can be a part of when it comes to making long term changes stick. Get Involved!

Written by Gabe Gauvin, ecomaine Communications & Outreach Intern

Blog Post: eco-Tips for the Holidays

From packing peanuts and cardboard boxes to food containers and scrap gift wrap, shopping around the holidays can create a lot of waste! According to the National Environmental Education Foundation, the United States generates one million extra tons of garbage per week between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day.

Here at ecomaine, we believe in following the waste hierarchy whenever possible to deal with waste – If you’re thinking about ways to save the planet while also saving money this season, here are some suggestions for ways to give a second life to materials that would normally get thrown out on the curb around the holidays…

Homemade Gifts

Making your own gifts is not only a great way to personalize your gifts, but it can also save energy and reduce your carbon footprint. If you’re looking for some inspiration to get started, check your kitchen cabinets – great gifts can be made from pantry staples like sugar, essential oils, ground coffee, and honey. Try making a sugar body scrub by mixing a combination of coconut oil, granulated sugar, and lavender essential oils, or experiment with your own recipes.

 

 

For the baker or chef in your life, give them the gift of less plastic in the kitchen by making a low-maintenance beeswax wrap out of your old scrap fabrics. A combination of beeswax and pine rosin wax creates heat-activated cling to cover bowls and casserole dishes, or to wrap up your half-eaten sandwich. These wraps are washable with mild soap and water, and as an added bonus, they are biodegradable!

Gift Wrap

Instead of buying store-bought gift wrap for your loved ones this year, consider using common household items like old paper shopping bags, toilet paper tubes, and leftover builder’s paper, which is made from recycled paper and costs much less than traditional wrapping paper. You can personalize each gift by decorating the outside with dried flowers or your own fun designs.

 

 

Want to wrap your gift in a gift? Packing those goodies into a mason jar, reusable tote bag, or a fabric gift wrap that can be re-gifted next year!

Year-Round Crafts

Already purchased and wrapped all your gifts for this year? No problem! Keep the leftover cardboard boxes, polystyrene foam, and tissue paper for other year-round projects and kids’ crafts like tea light lanterns made with minced garlic jars and used tissue paper, or foam stencils and stamps. Make sure to save your unused gift wrap for next season, and reuse and recycle whenever possible.

Taking small steps to cut down on your holiday waste can significantly reduce your carbon footprint, save you some extra cash, and save those items from a lifetime in the landfill. Want more suggestions for more environmentally-friendly holidays? Check out our holiday video tips, follow us on social media, and send us an email at info@ecomaine.org

Happy holidays, ecomaineiacs!

ecomaine celebrates America Recycles Week

Here at ecomaine, we’re celebrating America Recycles Week …WITH DATA!

Maybe you knew this is America Recycles Week.  Maybe you know that Thursday, November 15 is America Recycles DAY.  (If so…you’ve earned your ecomaine Public Awareness Badge, junior ranger!)

There’s been a lot of info lately about recycling right, putting waste in the right bin, and the recycling markets.  That’s all really, REALLY important.  But this blog post isn’t about that.

This is about the economic impact of the recycling industry in Maine.  That’s also really important, particularly as the debate ramps up about whether one bad year of recycling markets is enough to put the brakes on these programs that have taken years – DECADES – to cultivate and grow.

At ecomaine, we recycle because we subscribe to the waste hierarchy, and reducing, reusing, and recycling are the top three options when it comes to the stuff we don’t use any more.  But beyond that, it’s a significant piece of the economic puzzle in Maine, too.

As a state, Mainers have recycled more than a million tons a year.  Not bad, right?

All that material makes for 2,000+ jobs in Maine, too.  Even better!

Those jobs pay an average of almost $50,000 in salaries and benefits – better than the state average.

And with $34.5 million in taxes and a total of more than $350 million in total economic impact…?  Recycling in Maine is a big deal.

Nationally, the picture is the same – more than 90 million tons recycled, leading to more than half a million jobs that pay well, and make a BIG impact on the national economy.

You might say that Recycling Makes Cents.  But we’re not going to say that – we’re too busy sorting out all those tons of recyclables to make bad puns!

If you want to learn more about recycling – or ecomaine’s other programs, like our waste-to-energy plant or our ashfill – you can take a tour or field trip, five days a week!  Just get in touch at 207-773-1738 or info@ecomaine.org to set it up!

Blog Post: Powered by Trash!

When was the last time you felt good about putting something in the trash can?  Maybe you even felt guilty for having to throw something away?  Did you put it in the recycling bin, hoping it would be recycled against all hope that it was actually a recyclable material?

The great news is that for 72 towns and communities in Maine and two in New Hampshire, a non-profit waste management company called ecomaine takes your trash and converts it to electricity, while reducing it in size and volume.  So you don’t have to wish-cycle in order to keep items out of the ever-growing landfills.

If it’s not something you can reduce your use of, reuse in any way, recycle correctly, or compost as organic material, the only option is to put it in the trash can.  Maine is lucky to have not one but three waste-to-energy facilities in the state.  This means that much of Maine’s trash essentially goes to renewable energy in the form of making electricity, just by burning your trash.  Pollution IS created in the burning process but it is then mitigated by our rigorous pollution control systems and testing process.  Our emissions (which are 96% water vapor) are monitored and regulated by the Department of Environmental Protection and the Environmental Protection Agency!

The combusted trash turns to ash and leftover metals after a four-hour burning process.  Ferrous metals are taken out by a giant magnet that removes about 24,000 pounds of metal per 24-hour period.  The leftover ash – about 10-12 full dump-trucks per 24 hour period – is taken to the ecomaine-owned landfill just three miles down the road from our waste-to-energy facility, which is near the Portland airport.  Remember that this ash is now 90% less what it was when I came to ecomaine from your curbside or transfer station!

Ash is then dropped off in the landfill and flattened with a bulldozer!  Vroom!  From here, the ash is inert and does NOT emit methane or other harmful gasses, it doesn’t runoff and pollute waterways and since it is only 10% of its original size and volume, it takes up FAR less space than it would otherwise! 

So don’t feel guilty putting that trash item in your waste bin.  Remember to follow the waste hierarchy, but not everything can be reduced, reused, recycled or composted.  That’s when ecomaine’s waste-to-energy building is waiting for your trash items to safely reduce them and make electricity for upto 15,000 homes per year at the same time.

We at ecomaine urge you to find out where your trash and recycling goes and that’s why we offer tours Monday-Friday, as well as having extensive information of what we do and how we do it on our website: ecomaine.org.  Contact Katrina Venhuizen at venhuizen@ecomaine.org to schedule a tour for students 2nd grade to adult today!

See You In September!

September is a special kind of fun around ecomaine.  With all the back-to-school rush comes a great opportunity for us to do some of our own education.  Check it out…

Early in the month, there’s Portland Greenfest, which is now in the rearview mirror.  Info, food, music, and hundreds of sustainability-minded neighbors getting together to celebrate all things green.  We had a great time in Monument Square, talking about ecomaine, recycling, and waste-to-energy with lots of interested people.  We’re already looking forward to next year – see you there!

We were also at USM’s Sustainability Fair, Rock the House home event at Thompson’s Point, and the National Drive Electric event at TideSmart in Falmouth event early in September, too.  Lots of chances to talk about how to recycle right, and how ecomaine generates electricity from its 400,000 residents’ trash (even powering our electric car)!

Next up is the Common Ground Country Fair, from September 21-23 in Unity.  Come see us and 60,000 of our closest friends to celebrate rural and agricultural living in Maine – including sustainable waste management!  ecomaine is proud to provide the single-sort recycling container for the Fair, and to present to fair-goers on recycling and composting.  Get there early to park close!

And of course, there’s ecomaine’s 2018 Open House!  That’s on Saturday, September 29 from 8:00 – 11:00 a.m. at our Recycling Plant.  We’re currently deep in the planning and prep for this one, which will bring you THE BEST BREAKFAST SANDWICHES IN SOUTHERN MAINE (trademark?), tours of our facilities, kid’s activities, free recycling bins, free electronic waste collection, truck demos, plus info from our partner organizations in sustainability and appearances from Portland’s lineup of mascots: Slugger the Sea Dog, Crusher from the Red Claws, and Beacon the Puffin from the new Maine Mariners!

All the while, we’re going to start collecting applications for ecomaine’s School Recycling Grants program for students and teachers in our 73 member communities, we’re planning on attending the Maine Municipal Association conference in October, gearing up for a new season in our Maine Red Claws partnership (their 10th Anniversary season!), and we’re ALWAYS giving tours, updating our Recyclopedia, and helping our communities with resources and info

So come on out and meet ecomaine!

Meet Our Education & Outreach Staff

Yesterday, you finished off the milk at breakfast, printed a few too many copies of your document at work, and emptied the ice cream carton for dessert.  You put all these containers and paper, along with your glass, metal, cardboard, and rigid plastic containers in the recycling bin and out at the curb this morning.

Have you ever thought about what happens to all your recycling after it gets picked up by the truck?  Lucky for you, you can come see for yourself because ecomaine, the company that processes single-sort recycling and trash for one third of Maine, offers tours, presentations and outreach events opportunities for you!

Here to tell you all about these offerings are the Outreach and Education staff of ecomaine, including the expert educator, the wise intern, and our brand new educator!

Katrina, the seasoned Environmental Educator: Meeting new people every day within our member communities is definitely one of my favorite parts of the job.  Presentations to schools and businesses allow me to do just this on both a large and small scale. In-class programs, full-school assemblies, STEM expos, career fairs, lunch and learns and so much more allow ecomaine to come to your school or organization to teach students and staff about where their recycling and trash ends up and what happens to in along the way to make something new and productive.  The presentations we offer can be for a group as small as two people or we could speak to a full auditorium, gym, cafeteria, etc. So think of us at ecomaine the next time you want to educate your students or colleagues on where their trash and recycling goes, and what happens to it once it leaves your sight!

Gabe, the wise Intern: Spending a day outside in the fresh air is always fantastic, but it’s even better when I get to do it while teaching people all the Do’s and Don’ts of recycling. Hanging out at transfer stations, town halls, street fairs, and local festivals lets us create a direct connection with our community members!  It’s always awesome to see how excited and passionate people can be about commiting to the waste hierarchy and protecting their environment. Personally, I find it empowering to know that I’m doing meaningful work, and nothing emphasizes that feeling more than being able to see the lightbulb turn on in someone’s head and realizing that they can truly make a big difference with a remarkably small amount of effort in recycling.

Vanessa, our brand new Educator: Since my first day at ecomaine, I have learned so much about recycling and waste-to-energy through taking tours! Seeing is believing, here at ecomaine, and I was amazed to see just how much recycling is sorted each day. So far, the rubber stars are my favorite things to watch in action, as they spin and sort our cardboard and paper.

It can be really challenging to understand how Single-Sort Recycling works, and why some places can take materials that others cannot. Tours are a great way to learn about why we collect certain materials, and what technology is used to send them to the right place. You can watch everyday household items travel from the tipping hall to the baler in under four minutes!

Many communities in the state of Maine also bring their trash to our facility, where it is used to generate enough electricity to power both of our facilities, our electric car, and the rest goes back into the grid to power 15,000 homes! And our Waste-to-Energy Facility treats particles and gases so that we can keep our air clean. Our mission is to protect the environment, and by reducing the amount of trash going to landfills, and reducing our pollutants, we can keep Maine’s environment the way it should be.

If you’ve ever wanted to know how we generate electricity from your garbage, or if you’re curious about how recycling goes from our silver bullets to sorted bales, put on a hard hat and come schedule a tour with us. We’re available five days a week, and we love company!  We will also come to any of our 70+ member communities to staff a booth, talk with councils or select boards, schools, or public works staff!  Call 207-773-1738 or email info@ecomaine.org!