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State distributes $5 million to help cities and towns combat Connecticut’s garbage crisis

Meriden Food Scrap Pilot
Ryan Caron King
/
Connecticut Public
Green bags full of food scraps sit next to orange bags full of trash after being dropped off at HQ Dumpsters and Recycling in Southington. The load of waste materials is a part of a pilot municipal food waste recycling program in the city of Meriden, where about 1,000 households are now separating their old food from their trash to be transferred to an anaerobic digester and turned into electrical power and compost.

Connecticut has a trash problem. Residents keep pumping out trash, but municipal leaders say there are fewer and fewer spots in the state for all that garbage to go.

The problem of demand outstripping supply was magnified earlier this year when the Materials Innovation and Recycling Authority, a major trash-burning plant in Hartford, closed its operation.

In West Haven, Doug Colter, the city’s grants coordinator, said that closure “put pressure” on other trash incinerators in the state, straining their volume and capacity. He said garbage trucks sometimes wait up to six hours to “tip,” or unload their trash, at an incinerator at Bridgeport.

“There’s a lot of extra cost. Not just the tipping fee, but because the demand to wait in line at the incinerators is substantial,” Colter said. “Right now our contract is around $67 a ton for everything we dispose of. We’re told to expect that to double – and possibly triple – within the next 10 years.”

Colter said cities and towns don’t have the money to build large infrastructure to handle garbage. But he said there is something municipalities can do: cut down what they throw out.

“The only way we can control that at the local level is to take our trash and start fractioning it into least-cost disposal methods,” Colter said. “A least-cost method that’s available to use now is to take the food waste out of that stream of trash.”

On Tuesday, the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection announced it would offer nearly $5 million in grants to cities and towns to help set up food scrap recycling programs.

The hope is that getting food out of the trash – and, in some cases, sent to anaerobic digesters that turn it into electricity and compost – will help reduce the waste stream and control trash costs.

Colter’s city, West Haven, will receive $1.3 million to get a food recycling program up and running next month. DEEP announced the grants during a news conference in Middletown. The state department says the $5 million will be broken out across more than a dozen municipalities and three regional groups.

Beginning in November, Colter said single-family homes in West Haven will be offered two trash bags.

“One for food waste and one for regular trash,” he said. “To participate, put your food in the food bag and your trash in the trash bag.”

West Haven says residents will receive a mailer with information on the program – including where to pick up a free nine-month supply of the color-coded trash bags – in the coming weeks.

During the week, residents are advised to separate out their food waste into a lidded container that’s lined with the new garbage bag. On trash day, both regular trash bags and food waste bags will go into the same bin residents roll to the curb.

It’s similar to a pilot program the city of Meriden undertook last year with about 1,000 homes. Colter said up to 16,000 households will be eligible to participate in West Haven’s pilot program at no cost to residents.

Colter said he’ll measure success by tracking voluntary participation. The city will also weigh the presumably smaller disposal costs for reduced trash loads against the new costs of separating and hauling food waste.

“If those numbers are all in balance and there was good buy-in from the public, we’ll consider that a success and we’ll adopt the program permanently,” Colter said. “But the public’s going to have to want it. This isn’t the type of thing you can mandate from the top down.”

Here’s a list of the full DEEP grant recipients:

  • Ansonia
  • Bethany
  • Deep River
  • Guilford
  • Madison
  • Meriden
  • Middletown 
  • Newtown
  • Seymour
  • Stonington
  • Rocky Hill 
  • West Hartford
  • West Haven 
  • Woodbridge
  • Woodbury
  • South Central Regional Council of Governments (SCRCOG)
  • Naugatuck Valley Council of Governments (NVCOG) 
  • Housatonic Resources Regional Authority (HRRA)
Patrick Skahill is a reporter and digital editor at Connecticut Public. Prior to becoming a reporter, he was the founding producer of Connecticut Public Radio's The Colin McEnroe Show, which began in 2009. Patrick's reporting has appeared on NPR's Morning Edition, Here & Now, and All Things Considered. He has also reported for the Marketplace Morning Report. He can be reached by phone at 860-275-7297 or by email: pskahill@ctpublic.org.