Ed. Note: The following is a column from Pamela Ricci-Roach, an official of SCRCOG, regarding a letter that appeared in Gripevine concerning the Food-to-Fuel program.
By Pamela Ricci-Roach
(Allingtown Resident for 25 years)
Solid Waste Consultant
South Central Regional Council of Governments
I hear you; the trash collection pilot seems like it is a big change. It is quite difficult to communicate with all citizens in today’s fractioned media world, as we don’t have one way of reaching all citizens, and it is easy for misinformation to be mistaken as an alternative narrative.
Many residents don’t know what happens after curbside pickup. The short story is you pay for it. Connecticut’s waste management system is aging and unable to process the amount of trash from all 169 towns as trash is increasing and disposal methods are decreasing. This means we’re shipping trash out of state to Pennsylvania and Ohio to be landfilled. Once they become the only option, the corporations that run the landfills will jack up the price even higher.
The problem is supply and demand. We are being charged by the ton, meaning the more trash we produce the more expensive it is to dispose of. Between out-of-state trucking costs and the increase in demand for capacity at the three remaining CT incinerators taxpayer funded costs are rising astronomically. The food scrap pilot is a simple low-cost way to cut disposal costs by decreasing how much of West Haven’s trash being shipped, burned, and landfilled. Additionally, by reducing the cost, we decrease the chance that it will be passed down to residents through taxation or waste disposal fees.
The easiest component of household waste to separate is food. Over 22% of the trash citizens are paying to landfill is food! West Haven, along with 15 other communities, won a competitive State grant to pilot alternative collection methods that reduce cost and help the environment. Facilities offering alternatives to landfills and incineration for food waste are being planned around the state due to their lower cost-per-ton and the potential for other revenue such as electricity generation that reduces the cost to taxpayers. For example, composting food scraps to produce nutrient-rich soil and anaerobic digestion to produce electricity.
Now, about the smell of food scraps in your house. You are not increasing the food scraps. They have always been in your house. Now, you just keep them in a separate bag. If you choose to, the City has free green bins with a lid available for pick up at City Hall. Personally, I keep it under my sink and find it works great. You can also keep the bin outside with a weight or rock on the lid to prevent animals from getting in. Garbage disposals are handy, but they are not made for all food scraps. It’s not advised to put anything that isn’t liquid down your drain. It causes issues for the sewer plant and can easily clog your pipes. It also costs more in sewer fees to process than sending the food to a specialized digester.
Secondly, regarding green and orange bags all going in one truck. You’re correct, they are in fact being compacted together. However, the green and orange bags are specifically made to withstand the compacting process so they can be hand-separated at the facility in Southington. There are videos posted on the City Youtube channel that show this process.
The vendor we buy the bags from won the contract in an open and competitive public bid. They charge per bag about the same cost a typical name brand bag at a grocery store costs, and the City’s markup only covers the cost of bag distribution. The State grant funded one free case for each household.
West Haven’s green bags of food scraps are currently being converted into energy via anaerobic digestion. As more communities feel the heat of rising disposal costs, food separation programs and re-use facilities are gaining popularity and offering cheaper alternatives. They’re also just better for the environment than burning household waste.
I hope this helped you understand the “why” behind the program. When everything is going in the one trash bag, you hardly realize how much you throw away. Food scrap separation is an adjustment for sure, but it has a positive impact on the environment and the City’s wallet—which is your wallet.