Middletown secures $35,000 municipal waste diversion grant

Middletown secures $35,000 municipal waste diversion grant

The city will be using $350,000, its portion of $5 million in state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Sustainable Materials Management money, earmarked for 15 municipalities and three regional groups in Connecticut.

Officials gathered at the highway garage on Washington Street recently to share the news.

Sanitation district customers are the only ones eligible to participate at this time, according to Middletown Recycling Coordinator Kim O’Rourke, who said the department pays $90.64 per ton for trash sent to Murphy Road Recycling in Hartford.

Food waste included about 22 percent of the waste stream, O’Rourke said.

“We estimate this year-long pilot project will reduce waste up to 40 percent (approximately 2,500 tons),” O’Rourke explained. It will also increase recycling, offer curbside collection of food scraps, and ultimately reduce costs to customers in the sanitation district.

“If we can pull that material out of the trash stream, it would be significant, and have an impact on what needs to be sent to landfills and incinerators,” she added.

Other area municipalities receiving money include Deep River, Guilford and Madison.

The program models that of Meriden’s four-month, 1,000-household test launched earlier this year with DEEP Save Money and Reduce Trash grant program funding. The test was intended to prove the “feasibility of co-collection of food and household waste and the ease of use for residents,” according to the state.

The bags were separated by type and taken to Quantum Biopower in Southington, where the organic waste was transformed into renewable energy, known as biogas.

That effort diverted more than 13 tons of food scraps from the waste stream.

The grants support waste diversion efforts recommended by the Connecticut Coalition for Sustainable Materials Management, a coalition of over 100 municipalities across the state working on ways to reduce waste and increase reuse and recycling, DEEP said.

With the July closure of the Hartford Resource Recovery Facility Materials Innovation and Recycling Authority, up to 30 percent of the state’s solid waste will now be shipped to out-of-state landfills, DEEP said.

Middletown’s initiative is expected to begin at the end of next month, O’Rourke said.

Residents of the sanitation district and small businesses with collection carts are eligible to get a year’s worth of food waste bags. They’ll receive a week’s supply at a time: two green ones for food, and an orange one for trash.

In a process called co-collection, both bags go inside the regular bins, O’Rourke said, rather than in separate containers. “The idea is to make it easier to reduce your waste,” she said.

All residents now have the option of bringing their food scraps to the Recycling Center on Johnson Street at no charge, another one at the Emergency Management building at 675 Randolph Road, as well as the downtown farmers market, which runs from June to October.

“It’s still a little bit of an effort to go to a drop-off if you don’t compost at home,” O’Rourke acknowledged. “We’re trying to reach more people. These programs have demonstrated that you get a higher participation rate,” the explained coordinator.

The data will determine if the city rolls out the program to the rest of the city. “We’re really excited about it, and, from the results they had in Meriden and other communities that have done it, it seems like it could be very successful,” O’Rourke said.

She composts at home with empty yogurt containers and empties the scraps in her backyard daily. O’Rourke keeps them covered and doesn’t notice a smell.

Some containers use charcoal filters, but O’Rourke has found that unnecessary. “It’s a personal preference.”

Others keep their food scraps in a small composter in the kitchen, the refrigerator or freezer, or in five-gallon buckets in the basement or garage, O’Rourke pointed out.

She plans to create an educational video about what items to separate in the kitchen. “You can be as creative as you want. There are lots of different options, you just have to figure out what works best for you.”

“I think that the groundwork that we’re going to lay here in our sanitation district will hopefully prove a model for the rest of the city and the rest of the state,” Mayor Ben Florsheim said in the statement.

The city started a similar campaign, Feed the Earth in May 2021, where participating restaurants place food waste in bins to be picked up by the city. So far, nearly 400,000 pounds of waste has been collected, O’Rourke said.

According to Connecticut’s most recent waste characterization study, 41 percent of what residents throw away is organic material, including yard waste. That can be composted, converted to energy through anaerobic digestion or processed into animal feed, DEEP said. Food scraps are one of the heavier materials regularly thrown away at the residential level, the agency said.

The pilot program will not incur taxpayer dollars, O’Rourke explained. In face, continuing it would be inexpensive. In the future, district customers could get a reduction in their sanitation costs, but they’d have to buy the bags.

“This is a great first step forward in tackling the solid waste crisis,” the coordinator added. “This is a way we can pull out food waste from the trash, and reduce the amount of trash going to landfills and incinerators. That’s a big deal,” she said.

For information, go to middletownct.gov.

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