Maine: Colby College’s Composting Program

Waterville, ME

Colby College has been separating food waste in all three of their dining facilities: Dana, Foss and Roberts, since April of 2002. They send both pre- and post-consumer food waste to Hawk Ridge Compost Facility, which is only about 25 miles away. They have saved $10,500 in 2005 from sending their food waste from their dining halls and catering service to Hawk Ridge rather than to a landfill. They use Huhtamaki Earth products at their catered events such as their Green Graduation, which accommodates the 400 student graduating class plus their attending family and friends. There is a Green Team that oversees disposal at catered events by directing people to put items in the proper waste, recycling, and composting bins. Waste Management hauls their compostable material to Hawk Ridge Compost Facility upon special request, and on average make a monthly trip between the college and facility. In one year, 117.6 tons of food discard was sent to the compost facility.

Products and Brands Composted: 

Huhtamaki compostable plates
Soy-based utensils

Collection System: 

The Dana, Foss and Roberts dining halls collect all pre- and post-consumer food waste, unbleached napkins, compostable plates and food service paper. Food is drained beforehand and placed into a 5-gallon bucket. These buckets are left either in shacks on the loading dock or else inside until the pickup truck comes to transport them to the larger 20-yard roll-off bin by the Physical Plant Department. Waste Management collects the roll-off bin about once a month, when called by the college, to haul the material to Hawk Ridge Compost Facility, which is 25 miles away.

Size of Operation:
All three dining facilities on the Colby College campus: Dana, Foss and Roberts are participants in the program, along with the Sodexho catering service. In 2008, 117.6 tons of compostable material was collected and sent to the composting facility.

Dollars and Sense: 

In 2005, cost savings totaled $22,500. This sum is broken down into $2,000 of avoided electric cost, $10,000 of avoided water use, and $10,500 of avoided sewage fees. The cost of composting the material comes out to $12,000 which included the labor costs, hauling and transport fees of using Waste Management, and Hawk Ridge compost facility’s tipping fee. The net savings comes to $10,500 for “doing the right thing.”


The introduction of a new program is always a challenge in itself. Dale DeBlois, the Environmental Initiative Coordinator, worked hard to convince the campus dining service company, Sodexho, to want to adopt the program. He achieved this by showing them the savings in avoided water, sewer and electric costs. He stressed that the staff needed positive reinforcement to help motivate them and be educated of the benefits and purpose of the program.

In the initial phases of the program, the Sodexho dining staff placed all food material into a 20-gallon bucket. This soon became an issue when no one could move the bucket due to its heavy and liquid weight. To remedy this problem, the size of the bucket was reduced to 5-gallons and the food was drained of liquid before being placed into the buckets.

The buckets needed a place to sit before they were transported to the large bin at the Physical Plant Department (PPD). At first, they were left on the loading dock but heat caused a big odor problem and soon they saw rats trying to gnaw through the buckets. Next they tried keeping them in the freezer so rodents couldn’t get to or smell the buckets. That proved to be a problem also when the food couldn’t be dislodged from the buckets into the large bin at PPD. Now, the buckets have airtight screw-on lids that keep the odor in and rodents away. These buckets are kept indoors or else in small shacks on the loading dock as they await pickup.

Finding a hauling method also was difficult. An additional truck is now in use to haul the buckets from the dining halls to the large bin at PPD. The health department required a separate truck for hauling waste and transporting consumable foods as safety precautions.

Maggots and odor would become an issue at the large bin at PPD, so Plant employees occasionally sprinkle lime on top of the material in the bin as needed to control the problem.

At catered event where members of the Green Team are needed to assist with proper disposal sorting, they had more volunteers sign-up then actually show up. This is a continued problem which only a change in attitude can resolve.

Tips for Replication: 

Get staff on board to carry out program by helping them understand the purpose and importance of separating food waste as well as much positive reinforcement.

Drain material before putting them in buckets, and make sure to have tight fitting lids on the buckets to prevent odor issues.


Dale DeBlois, Environmental Initiative Coordinator
(207) 859-5022