Ocean City Compost Program Impresses With 40 Tons Of Waste Reported

Ocean City Compost Program Impresses With 40 Tons Of Waste Reported
Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan recently joined Ocean Compost LLC's Garvey Heiderman in collecting the compost bins from local restaurants for transport to a site in Bishopville. Photo courtesy of Go Green OC

OCEAN CITY — Ocean City’s private sector food waste composting program is exceeding expectation, resort officials learned this week, but there is still plenty of room to grow.

In July, Hobbit Restaurant owner and Ocean Compost LLC representative Garvey Heiderman 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 collects 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 needed 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. On Monday, Heiderman provided an update on the food waste composting program to the Mayor and Council.

“We composted about 80,000 pounds of waste this year,” he said. “To give you a frame of reference, last year, with just one restaurant — The Hobbit — we did about 12,000 pounds. This year, we did 80,000 pounds, or 40 tons. Next year, we expect to do 250 tons.”

Heiderman said Ocean Compost LLC and its partnership with the town are only scratching the surface.

“We surmise that there are 10,000 tons of food waste generated in Ocean City each year,” he said. “I wouldn’t say all of that is low-hanging fruit, but it gives the town of Ocean City an idea of the scalability of this program.”

Heiderman said he wasn’t looking for an additional commitment from the town, but was merely providing an update on the progress of the program.

“I’m not here to ask for a lot from the town or the county standpoint,” he said. “I know some of you are very encouraged by this process. I want to reiterate this was always going to be a crawl-walk-run process. We’re not going to get ahead of ourselves. We don’t want to bite off more than we can chew. This is all about scale.”

Mayor Rick Meehan said he took a ride-along with the program and came away impressed.

“I took the route with you and I can tell you all it is quite an efficient operation,” he said. “It’s really well laid-out. They have a very strong system in place. It went flawlessly. It took about two hours to collect from three or four restaurants.”

Meehan praised Heiderman and Ocean Compost for their efforts and urged the down to help grow the program.

“There are a lot of man-hours that go into this,” he said. “Whatever we can do to help him gradually expand this program, I think it would benefit the town. We have a commitment from an individual that is putting more into this than he is getting out of it from a monetary standpoint.”

Heiderman clarified the numbers he presented represented an entire year. The Town of Ocean City didn’t start its partnership with Ocean Compost LLC until July, which is why the town’s 17.1-ton number was reported in the packet. It’s interesting to note, of the roughly 80,000 pounds of food waste collected through the program, the Bonfire led the way with over 30,000 pounds collected, while the Hobbit was second with nearly 28,000 pounds collected. The balance was spread over the three restaurants participating, including Annabelle’s, the Dough Roller and Mother’s Cantina.

“The template you have before you was drafted in accordance with an agreement on a contract, which didn’t start until sometime in July,” said Public Works Director Hal Adkins. “The template speaks of 17 tons, but his collection started back in April, which is why he is talking about 40 tons.”

Councilman John Gehrig said the food waste compost program represented out-of-the-box thinking.

“You came here a couple of years ago with an idea,” he said. “A lot of people come here and try to tell the government everything they are doing wrong, but you came with a solution. This is a private sector approach and we appreciate that.”

Meehan said every ton that is composted is another ton not headed to the incineration plant.

“If we take 80,000 pounds of waste, that’s 80,000 pounds that we don’t have to take to Covanta,” he said. “We can explore some kind of grant to reimburse that and grow the program in the future.”

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.