Some CT towns recycling food scraps voluntarily
In what one official called the biggest change to waste management since the advent of mass recycling in the 1980s, Californians have started separating food scraps from other household waste, on the heels of a similar law that recently took effect in Vermont.
In Connecticut, some municipalities are doing it on their own.
Passed in 2016, the California law is intended to divert food scraps into composting facilities that capture methane gas, before it can escape into the atmosphere as organic waste decays. Studies show methane has exponentially greater impact as a greenhouse gas than other pollutants like carbon dioxide.
The vast majority of household waste in Connecticut is burned to produce electricity, but environmental advocates say keeping food out of the garbage will go a long way toward reducing pollution and ash produced by those incinerators. In Connecticut, organic waste makes up about one of every five pounds of garbage, according to a 2015 study published by the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.
The DEEP-led Connecticut Coalition for Sustainable Materials Management has made food waste one of its four major early initiatives, along with intensified recycling; charging businesses and households on a “pay as you throw” model; and finding ways to encourage manufacturers to include the cost of recycling and waste when pricing products
DEEP has also earmarked a number of grants to municipalities and other organizations for pilot projects to divert food waste to commercial composting facilities.
Connecticut has commercial composting facilities in New Milford, Southington, Ellington and Thompson, which combined are permitted to process about 375,000 tons of agricultural waste and food scraps annually. Several more operate statewide under temporary permits from DEEP adding about 40,000 tons of aggregate capacity each year, with another in the planning stages for North Haven at 75,000 tons.
Blue Earth Compost claims it is the largest collector of diverted organic waste in Connecticut. Launched eight years ago out of a hatchback auto, the company now hauls as much as 35 tons or more of organic waste weekly, according to Samuel King, who spoke last spring to CCSMM members.
“Environmentalism and sustainability are only really going to get full-scale, cultural acceptance if we’re able to build accessibility into it — and part of that is cost,” King said during an online CCSMM forum in April. “We need to make sure we’re offering these services at a price that reflects what should be done, rather than what could be done.”
In 2011, Connecticut became the first state to pass a law for mandatory composting for commercial food sellers that produce at least a ton of organic waste weekly on average, with exemptions for those located more than 20 miles from a commercial composting facility. Last year, the state doubled that range to bring more big food producers within the orbit of composting facilities.
Many Connecticut towns have collection sites for food scraps — one in Greenwich was taking in a ton weekly just months after its debut — but those programs are voluntary.
The founder of Waste Free Greenwich estimates that 4 percent of town residents are dropping off organic waste today for composting, adding up to about 55 tons to date.
“Obviously, the tonnage would be magnified with a mandate like California or Vermont,” Julie DesChamps, founder of Waste Free Greenwich, said in an email.
“There is currently no incentive to reduce waste and increase food scrap recycling, and the tonnages and costs of waste management reflect that. Yet, many residents who voluntarily participate recognize the economic and environmental benefits of food scrap recycling. They notice how much goes into the bin and how much their trash has been cut — in some instances by half. They then take measures to prevent waste in the first place.”
An organizer of a Darien food scrap collection program noted that it is a learning process for participants, some of whom drop off scraps in non-biodegradable plastic bags.
“Most of the general population just doesn’t really think that much about municipal solid waste,” Carlyn Bayne, of the Darien Advisory Committee on Sustainability, said during the CCSMM forum last spring. “The issue is getting them to recognize the benefits — and then encouraging them to make this change.”