Oak Bluffs pursuing new compost facility

A grant application was submitted to the Environmental Protection Agency for a possible composting facility.

The Island may need to find ways to increase its commercial composting capacity. — MV Times

Oak Bluffs is pursuing funding to build a commercial composting facility, but even if the town is successful, the Island may still need to ramp up its efforts to meet state composting requirements. Potentially, six commercial composting units may be needed. 

Oak Bluffs Select Board chair Emma Green-Beach told The Times the town applied for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Solid Waste Infrastructure for Recycling grant to potentially set up a commercial composting facility. According to the agency, a total of $275 million was funded for the program through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

If successful, Green-Beach said, the facility would be set up at the Oak Bluffs Transfer Station, which is jointly operated with Tisbury. 

Green-Beach said Bruno’s Rolloff, a local waste management company, is also on board with the plan.

“The details of exactly how it would be operated are not worked out yet,” Green-Beach said.

Green-Beach said the town should be hearing back from the agency within the next couple of months.

“There’s not much to say until we get it,” she said, adding that the grant program was very competitive.

Tisbury officials also discussed possibly collaborating with Oak Bluffs to operate the commercial composting facility, if the grant was awarded, during a recent meeting. Tisbury town administrator John Grande said a conversation between the two towns’ select boards will be needed if the funding comes through.

The Tisbury Select Board and Tisbury planning board discussed ways to address waste and composting in their town. 

Currently, the only commercial composting site on Martha’s Vineyard is operated by Island Grown Initiative (IGI), but town officials say there’s limited capacity there. IGI uses an in-vessel compost rotary drum to expedite the composting process in a controlled manner, and tried to raise support for a regional effort in 2019. It was estimated that of the 19,000 tons of garbage exported from the Island each year, 6,500 tons were made up of food and cost the Vineyard around $740,000.

Tisbury planning board chair Ben Robinson said “in the best estimations” of people working on waste on the Island, developing a “complete composting system” for all of the food waste produced on Martha’s Vineyard would require six on-Island commercial composting units. 

“That’s the scale of the problem we’re approaching,” he said. 

Tisbury climate committee chair Melinda Loberg said she has been studying the composting issue on the Island with IGI, and that the in-vessel system has maybe two years left, even with maintenance and repairs. 

“The search has been Island-wide for a place to host a bed and a building around it to accept compost from all around the Island,” she said. 

Additionally, Massachusetts reduced the threshold for businesses and institutions banned from disposing of “commercial organic wastes” last year. In 2014, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) banned the disposal of commercial organic wastes by businesses and institutions that “generate one ton or more of these materials per week.” This threshold was reduced to businesses and institutions that generate a half-ton or more of commercial organic wastes weekly. 

The decrease was a part of MassDEP’s initiatives for “diverting at least 35 percent of all food waste from disposal statewide.” According to MassDEP, Massachusetts residents waste a million tons of food per year that could be donated, composted, or used as animal feed.

“It’s only going to get tighter,” Loberg said, adding that the Island may need to consider working with contractors to get composting done. 

When select board member John Cahill asked whether the state had a timeline the town needed to follow, Loberg pointed to the threshold that was already established, which she said is expected to be halved in about a year. She also said funding from the Martha’s Vineyard Vision Fellowship was also involved in the Island’s composting efforts. 

“My only concern is we can wake up five years from now, and still be in the same place,” Cahill said, pointing to the tightening state requirement. 

Another concern was where the commercial composting facilities could be constructed. Loberg underscored that available, and allowable, space for this kind of facility was lacking on the Island. Robinson said increasing composting would need to be an Island-wide initiative, and it might make sense to work with farms, where the compost can be used. Robinson said while private businesses and nonprofit organizations have been looking at the composting issue, it was time for the towns to take a more active role in the issue. 

Robinson said the planning board has been talking with local restaurant operators about how waste, like single-use plastics, could be reduced, and encouraging composting. Robinson said it would be worthwhile for the town to consider how food establishments can be regulated regarding composting.

“It’s an important issue,” Robinson said. “We pay a lot of money to remove waste from the Island, let alone the environmental impact of it.” 

Planning board members agreed that it would be worthwhile for the town, including the board of health, to look into the issue. Planning board member Casey Hayward pointed out that whatever option was taken should not place “too much of a financial burden” on local businesses. 

Robinson also said while restaurant operators are moving away from styrofoams and single-use plastics toward compostable products, these items — which are usually more expensive for businesses — will need to be looked at for possible pollutants that may re-enter the food system.