OCEAN CITY — While Ocean City has long abandoned its traditional curbside recycling program in favor of a waste-to-energy operation, resort officials this week embraced a food waste composting pilot program aimed at reducing the waste stream.
Ocean Compost LLC representative Garvey Heiderman, owner of The Hobbit restaurant, on Tuesday pitched his pilot food waste composting program to the Mayor and Council. The concept calls for Ocean Compost LLC to collect food waste from a handful of restaurants in the resort and transport it to a composting site in Bishopville. The idea is to reduce the overall waste stream emanating from Ocean City by removing a significant amount of biodegradable food waste and composting it on a five-acre site in northern Worcester County.
Over a decade ago, Ocean City pivoted from a traditional curbside recycling program to an innovative waste-to-energy operation. Trash collected in Ocean City is transported to a plant in Pennsylvania where it is incinerated and converted to energy. The town pays Covanta, the waste-to-energy operation, per ton to incinerate waste collected and convert into renewable energy, and Ocean Compost LLC is using a pilot program to reduce the amount of food waste that heads to Pennsylvania. In the pilot program, Ocean Compost LLC will collect food waste from five participating restaurants in the resort, weigh it at the town’s public works complex at 65th Street and then transport it to a site in Bishopville for composting.
The reason Ocean Compost LLC needs the blessing of the Mayor and Council is because the collected food waste will be weighed at the town’s public works facility at 65th Street. Ocean City will pay Ocean Compost LLC the same per-ton rate as it pays Covanta, so the pilot program is cost-neutral for the town.
The benefit is food service industry waste will be composted locally instead of being sent to Covanta for incineration. Thus far, site limitations have limited the pilot program to five restaurants in the resort including the Hobbit, the Bonfire, Dough Roller, Mother’s Cantina and Annabelle’s. Public Works Director Hal Adkins told the Mayor and Council his department has been working with Heiderman and Ocean Compost LLC on the pilot program.
“We’ve been working with Garvey for over a year,” he said. “He’s proposing to expand his operation with the Hobbit and four other locations. He’s working with these entities to remove and transport food waste. It’s an admirable thing.”
Adkins said the pilot program was just that, an initial step in what could be an expanded operation.
“The contract has an expiration date of next April,” he said. “At that point, we’ll re-evaluate and see if there is an opportunity to expand the program.”
For his part, Heiderman told the Mayor and Council there were limitations on how many restaurants and how much food waste could be collected at this point. He said the hope is to expand the operation in the future, but getting the town’s approval on the initial phase was an important first step.
“We’re limited to a five-acre footprint right now,” he said. “We’re maxed out with the five we have. At this point, we’d like to stick with what we have. It’s a baby step in what will hopefully be many steps.”
The council embraced the concept and voted unanimously to approve the contract for the pilot program. Food waste collected from the initial five restaurants participating will be diverted to the composting area in Bishopville and not sent to Covanta.
Councilman Peter Buas questioned if there was an opportunity to expand the operation to include drop-off locations somewhere in corporate limits for recyclables. Many in the resort area separate their recyclables and take them to drop-off sites in the county, such as Wal-Mart, for example.
“I’m not sure curbside will ever come back,” he said. “I would like to see some drop-off points added in town. I’d like to bring that back for discussion at some point in the future.”