Young Company Turning Lobster Waste Into Something More

During the first week of August, approximately 30,000 people attended the Maine Lobster Festival on Rockland harbor. When they feel hungry, the majority of those visitors enter the Festival’s huge dining tent in search of one thing: steamed lobster. Around 20,000 pounds of the state’s signature crustacean are devoured each year by the lobster-loving crowds, who leave behind many thousands of empty shells and bodies.

Enter ScrapDogs.

ScrapDogs Community Compost is a small Rockland company started in 2018 by Davis Saltonstall and Tessa Rosenberry, whose mission is to prevent food waste from ending up in local landfills. The company supplies residents and businesses with clean buckets for food waste which is collected on a regular basis. The material is then composted into clean compost that customers can use in vegetable or flower gardens.

Thousands of lobster shells generated at the Maine Lobster Festival have turned into compost thanks to ScrapDogs. ScrapDogs photo.

In 2022, the company tried collecting and composting lobster waste from the Festival on a pilot basis. This year, ScrapDogs went full steam ahead, gathering between 8,000 and 10,000 pounds of lobster waste over the 7 days of the festival.

“In 2022 we experimented to find out what we needed to make it work,” explained Saltonstall. They figured out what was needed in terms of collection receptacle, how often to collect and clean them and when, and the staff capacity required to handle such high volumes of waste.

This past August they set up five-gallon buckets at each table at the Festival’s vast eating tent. Fourteen volunteers and members of Saltonstall’s family sorted through each and every bucket to remove non-compostable items such as plastic utensils, lobster rubber bands, and other items. “You want the waste to be clean to start with. Anything smaller than a ½ inch you have to get rid of,” Saltonstall said.

The five-gallon buckets were then dumped into larger, rolling totes which were picked up as the Festival closed for the night or first thing the next morning. The totes were taken to the company’s new composting site, a 1-acre asphalt pad leased from George C. Hall and Sons, a local excavator, in rural Washington, 20 miles inland of Rockland. “We would truck around fifteen 30-gallon totes each day, about 2.5 yards, conservatively 10 yards in total,” Saltonstall estimated.

At the composting site, the lobster shells and bodies, heavy in nitrogen, were mixed with carbon-rich items such as woods chips and shavings and horse manure, and then laid out in long piles called windrows. Eight to ten thousand pounds of lobster obviously required a good dose of everything to get hot enough to turn into compost. “Fortunately, Washington is a great place for manure and forestry byproducts,” Saltonstall said. “We are lucky. We found reliable partners to buy these materials from.”

It took only a few days for the lobster waste to heat up once it was mixed in the proper ratio to the other materials and then aerated. The temperature of the long windrows quickly reached 150o to 160o within a week. By mid-October the mix had finished composting and was cooling down, what Saltonstall called its “curing phase.” In the spring the compost will be screened and packaged for ScrapDog’s customers.

It was hard work and took a lot of organizing, but Saltonstall feels the effort was worth it. “It’s the first time recycling at the Festival has been done at this scale and the first to address contaminants in the waste,” he said. “The volunteers were critical.”

During the course of the Festival, Saltonstall and volunteers had a chance to talk to attendees about recycling and composting. “The reception was generally positive,” he said. “Lots of people didn’t know what happened to the shells before. Having the buckets available was convenient for them.”

Food waste in the landfill will decompose and release methane into the air. Methane is a long-lived greenhouse gas, 80 times more harmful than carbon dioxide.

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