Middletown gets $35,000 municipal waste diversion grant

The city will use $350,000, its $5 million share of Department of Energy and Environmental Protection funds for sustainable materials management, earmarked for 15 municipalities and three regional groups in Connecticut.

Officials recently gathered at the Washington Street Truck Garage to share the news.

Clients of the health district 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 a ton for waste sent to Murphy Road Recycling in Hartford.

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

“We estimate that this one-year pilot project will reduce waste by up to 40% (approximately 2,500 tonnes),” O’Rourke explained. It will also increase recycling, offer curbside collection of leftover food, and ultimately reduce costs for Sanitary Ward customers.

“If we can remove this material from the waste stream, that would be significant and impact what needs to be sent to landfills and incinerators,” she added.

Deep River, Guilford and Madison are other municipalities in the area receiving money.

The program models that of the four-month, 1,000-household Meriden test launched earlier this year with DEEP Save money and reduce waste grant program funding. The test aimed to prove the “feasibility of co-collection of food and household waste and 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 turned into renewable energy, known as biogas.

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

Grants support waste diversion efforts recommended by the Connecticut Coalition for Sustainable Materials Managementa coalition of more than 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 Authorityup to 30% of the state’s solid waste will now be shipped to out-of-state landfills, DEEP said.

The Middletown initiative is expected to begin late next month, O’Rourke said.

Sanitary Ward residents and small businesses with collection carts are eligible to get a year’s worth of food waste bags. They will receive a week’s supply at a time: two greens for food and one orange for garbage.

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

All residents now have the option to drop off their food scraps for free at the Johnson Street Recycling Center, another at the Emergency Management Building at 675 Randolph Road, as well as the Downtown Farmer’s Market, which takes place from June to October.

“It’s still a bit of an effort to go to a depot if you’re not composting at home,” O’Rourke acknowledged. “We are trying to reach more people. These programs have demonstrated that you get a higher participation rate,” explained the coordinator.

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

She composts at home with empty yoghurt pots and empties the leftovers from her garden daily. O’Rourke keeps them covered and notices no smell.

Some containers use carbon filters, but O’Rourke found this unnecessary. “It’s a personal preference.”

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

She plans to create an educational video on what to separate in the kitchen. “You can be as creative as you want. There are many different options, you just need to figure out what works best for you.

“I think the groundwork that we will lay down here in our health district will hopefully be a model for the rest of the city and the rest of the state,” Mayor Ben Florsheim said in the statement.

The city launched a similar campaign, Feeding the Earth in May 2021, where participating restaurants place food waste in bins for collection by the city. So far, nearly 400,000 pounds of trash have been collected, O’Rourke said.

According to the most recent Connecticut Waste Characterization Study, 41% of what residents throw away is organic material, including yard waste. This can be composted, converted to energy through anaerobic digestion or made into animal feed, DEEP said. Food scraps are one of the heaviest materials regularly thrown away at the residential level, the agency said.

The pilot program will not involve taxpayers’ money, O’Rourke explained. Opposite, to continue would be inexpensive. In the future, customers in the district might get a reduction in their sanitation costs, but they would have to buy the bags.

“This is a first big step forward in tackling the solid waste crisis,” added the coordinator. “It’s a way to get food waste out of the bins and reduce the amount of waste going to landfills and incinerators. It’s a big deal,” she said.

For more information, visit middletownct.gov.

About Shelly Evans

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