From scraps to soil: Breaking down Connecticut’s composting trend

New Hartford resident Liza Bocchichio brought the household food scraps from her family of four to recycle at the Regional Transfer Station for Barkhamsted, Winchester, and New Hartford.

Jennifer Almquist

From scraps to soil: Breaking down Connecticut’s composting trend

Efforts are underway throughout Connecticut to increase community composting and reduce food waste.

For years, most towns in Connecticut have been concerned with the waste stream, yet despite some support from the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP), and Governor Ned Lamont, the state legislature continues to deny applications for funding. DEEP Commissioner Katie Dykes said, “We need to reduce waste overall, and reducing food waste by learning how to better manage food in our homes.”

According to Project Drawdown, a leading global resource for climate solutions, “the reversal of global warming is both environmentally and economically achievable by mid-century if we act now and scale up already practical climate solutions like composting.” In its list of the most effective solutions to “draw down” or reverse the build-up of carbon in the atmosphere, reducing food waste ranks within the top three solutions. Composting organic waste, versus landfilling it, can reduce more than 50% of carbon dioxide-equivalent greenhouse gas emissions for a total of 2.1 gigatons between now and 2050.

Pilot programs for food-waste collection and composting are helping towns make some headway. Todd Arcelaschi, the mayor of Winchester, is also the administrator of the Regional Refuse Disposal District No. 1. On a recent blustery day, he gave a tour of the food scrap recycling pilot program that began Jan. 15, 2024.

Located at the Transfer Station that serves Barkhamsted, New Hartford, and Winchester, the program is free to all town residents with transfer station passes. New Hartford resident, Liza Bocchichio, emptied the kitchen scraps produced by her family of four into the blue and yellow bins and said they are very happy with the program. Residents separate their food scraps from normal waste, place them in compostable bags, and deposit them in special bins provided by a Hartford firm, Blue Earth, which then hauls them to Quantum Biopower, a DEEP approved anaerobic digester in Southington. In 21 days, Quantum converts food scraps into compost, and turns the methane by-product inside the facility into biogas that generates electricity for Southington.

Their weekly pickup from the Barkhamsted site was over 1,200 pounds of waste that was not going to the landfill. Arcelaschi said, “Compost improves soil quality, reduces the need for chemical fertilizers, retains water in our soil, and reduces soil erosion. The CT DEEP states that 22% of the waste stream is food.”

Jennifer Heaton-Jones, Executive Director of the Housatonic Resource Recovery Authority (HRRA) in Brookfield, created the first Connecticut curbside pick-up food waste program in Bridgewater in 2014. HRRA now has nine drop-off locations with the goal of having programs in all 14 member towns. She said that perseverance and patience are the most important ingredients for success.

Heaton-Jones applied for and received USDA grants for her latest efforts, which include Connecticut’s first municipal solar-powered Aerated Static Pile (ASP) composting site located in Ridgefield. The solar array powers a pump that aerates the pile of food waste and shredded leaves. She stated, “the goal of this project is to create a self-sustaining closed loop composting system for transforming residential food waste into an end-product for community and agricultural use. This innovative project demonstrates that municipalities can manage food waste locally, reduce the carbon footprint of offsite disposal and contribute to the waste diversion goals of the state.”

Since its launch in 2022, the Ridgefield ASP facility has turned 43,000 pounds of food into 60 cubic yards of compost. In Newtown, where 1,220 people participate, the pilot program reduced 184 tons of solid waste in the first 21 weeks. HRRA is in the process of building a second ASP facility that should be up and running in September.

Brian D. Bartram , Manager Salisbury/Sharon Transfer Station in Lakeville and Barbara Bettigole, Chair of Transfer Station Recycling Advisory Committee. Jennifer Almquist

Brian D. Bartram is the manager of the Salisbury/Sharon Transfer Station. Along with Barbara Bettigole, Chair of the Salisbury/Sharon Transfer Station Recycling Advisory Committee, they are the driving force behind the successful Salisbury/Sharon Food Waste Collection program. Bettigole has long been an advocate for composting, especially bringing programs into schools for children to learn about composting and food waste.

According to Bettigole, getting the word out to the public, encouraging participation is key. They have created numerous information “sandwich” boards that are placed at community gathering spots. She believes “most people are curious and want to the right thing.”

Bartram manages the $5 million state-of-the-art facility where residents with transfer passes receive a countertop compost bin and a 6-gallon storage/transportation bin. Accepted items include fruit and vegetables, produce and deli items, meat and poultry (including bones), fish and shellfish (Including shells), dairy, bread and pasta, rice and grains, eggshells, nuts and seeds, leftovers, coffee grounds, cut flowers, corks, tea bags, paper towels and napkins. There is a high green metal fence surrounding the facility and, as a result, Bartram said, “we have only had one bear!” Clients must provide their own compostable bags. Lakeville resident Jen Hazard dropped her very neat, approved bag in the provided bin and expressed enthusiasm for the program.

The Salisbury/Sharon pilot program, started in 2021, now serves 400 households. Between 2021 and 2022, it diverted 18.5 tons of food scraps.

Bettigole and Bartram believe Connecticut needs a regional recycling coordinator like Massachusetts has. With the limited number of local facilities, limited route density, and transportation distances, the costs remain high. Without funding approval from the Connecticut legislature, area towns are left to their own devices seeking a combination of grants, tax dollars, and outside fundraising. Bartram just notified the community that as of Jan. 1, 2025, all organizations that generate 26 or more tons of food scraps, such as schools, restaurants, supermarkets, resorts, and hospitals, will be required by CT Public Act 23-170 to separate and recycle all food scraps at an authorized organic material composting facility.

Other Northwest Corner towns have taken different approaches to achieve composting programs. The Lakeville Journal polled municipal leaders for comment.

Kent First Selectman Marty Lindenmayer responded, “Currently Kent has a composting agreement with the Housatonic Resource Recovery Authority to collect our organic food waste and bring it to a composting site in New Milford. Kent does not have the capacity to develop a composting capability, due in part to the small amount of compost material the Town collects because this year we are conducting a pilot program for collecting food waste, so it is voluntary and not mandatory.”

Jay Hubelbank, Selectman from Washington answered, “At this time we are collecting food waste from residents at our Transfer Station. We have the food waste picked up and delivered to a company in New Milford who composts it. We pay for the transportation and the weight of the load. Last year we collected 7.5 tons”

Greg LaCava, First Selectman in Warren stated, “Warren has had a composting program in effect for 3 years now, instituted when I took office. Warren doesn’t have a transfer station, therefore we allocated bins for residents to utilize. Bins have been strategically located at Town Hall and are bear proof. Residents can access these bins 24/7. We sought no federal funding — completely instituted and managed locally.”

LaCava stated the yearly environmental impact of the program resulted in 3,111 pounds of CO2 saved, and 3,547 miles of driving avoided.

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