Trash and food scrap collection bags Credit: Courtesy of DEEP

The Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection took a small step forward Tuesday in piloting a program to get residents to reduce the amount of trash they throw into the garbage. 

This past summer the state’s only trash-to-energy plant shuttered its doors. For those not paying attention to where their trash goes, and with little to no landfill capacity left, it means up to 30% of the state’s solid waste will now be shipped to out-of-state landfills in states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, New Jersey and Virginia. 

The amount of trash a ton collects usually figures into property tax bills.

The Sustainable Materials Management Coalition awarded nearly $5 million to 15 municipalities and three regional groups looking for ways to divert things like food scraps from the waste stream. This is the largest investment that the state has made to date in sustainable alternatives to waste disposal, in order to incentivize municipalities and regional entities to implement programs that will achieve greater system reliability, environmental sustainability, and fiscal predictability.

The money was approved as part of the recent budget. 

“The grants are an incentive for municipalities to try programs that otherwise wouldn’t be possible, while at the same time encourage residents to rethink and reconsider their disposal habits,” Jennifer Heaton-Jones, executive director of the Housatonic Resources Recovery Authority, said. ”The goal is to empower residents to change their disposal habits through the experience of cost savings using Unit Based Pricing and Food Waste Recycling.”

Many of the award winners modeled their pilot programs after the success of one launched earlier this year in Meriden where 1,000 residents were asked to use two types of bags: one for food scraps and another for trash. The two bags were put into one bin. The bags with food scraps were transported to Quantum Biopower in Southington, where the organic waste was transformed into renewable energy. The other bag likely went to a transfer station before getting shipped to another state.

The Meriden pilot diverted over 13 tons of food scraps from the waste stream.

According to Connecticut’s most recent waste characterization study, 41% of what residents throw away is organic material—e.g., food scraps, and yard waste—that can be composted, converted to energy through anaerobic digestion or processed into animal feed. Food scraps alone represent 22% of residential trash. Food scraps are one of the heavier materials regularly thrown away at the residential level and removing them from the waste stream reduces the costs of disposal as municipalities pay by weight. 

DEEP Commissioner Katie Dykes in Middletown to make the announcement Credit: Courtesy of DEEP

“The municipalities piloting these programs will lead the state in modernizing our waste management practices, a key to solving the state’s waste disposal crisis,” DEEP Commissioner Katie Dykes said. “I’m grateful to Governor Lamont and the Connecticut General Assembly for authorizing funding for this unprecedented investment in sustainable waste solutions.” 

The grants went to: Ansonia, Bethany, Deep River, Guilford, Madison, Meriden, Middletown, Newtown, Seymour, Stonington, Rocky Hill, West Hartford, West Haven, Woodbridge, and Woodbury. Regional support for the municipalities running these SMM pilots will be provided by COGs or Regional Waste Authorities, those groups providing support include South Central Regional Council of Governments (SCRCOG), Naugatuck Valley Council of Governments (NVCOG) and Housatonic Resources Regional Authority (HRRA).  

“I am thrilled to have Guilford residents participate in this co-collection pilot program,” Guilford First Selectman Matt Hoey said. “Although this is only one small step toward a solution to the potential waste crisis here in Connecticut, my hope is that this program draws attention to more sustainable food waste practices and highlights their beneficial impacts on the environment and the community as a whole.”