Meriden officials hope to expand food waste diversion program

MERIDEN — The city recently ended a four-month co-collection program to divert food waste from state landfills and asked to expand it to 2,300 additional homes.

About 1,000 households in Meriden were the first in the state to participate in a food waste co-collection program in hopes of demonstrating how waste diversion solutions can help solve the disposal crisis in statewide.

Meriden households are customers of HQ Dumpsters & Recycling in Southington, a waste hauler who participated in the waste collection scheme. Participating households outside the city center scraped their plates and cooking pots into green bags to turn them into biogas at Quantum Biopower in Southington. Garbage was stored in bags of different colors.

The $40,000 in pilot funds covered the purchase of special color-coded bags for food waste separation during the four months of the project, as well as staff to sort the bags and ship food scraps to Quantum Biopower.

“We are working to find a sustainable path,” said Jack Perry, owner of HQ Dumpsters & Recycling and Southington City Councilor. “My goal has always been to divert as much as possible. What’s great are the conversations the pilot started. How do you make this as efficient and simple as possible? »

Some weeks were heavy and some weeks had less volume, Perry said. He and data collectors from WasteZero, a state consultant on the project, review data for submission to the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.

“We want to know what the variables were,” Perry asked. “Was it human error? People don’t take out the trash? “We go back to the trends, the highs and lows of certain weeks. See if we got as much turnout as possible. It allows us to capture all of that and look at that data, and see how we’re expanding that to other municipalities. »

WasteZero is still reviewing the data but has released some early findings from the Meriden pilot.

“We’ve seen over 50% weekly participation in food waste collection,” said WasteZero President Mark Dancy. “Nearly 100% of all waste was collected from homes on the course. About 25% of that ended up in the green bags. It’s what we expected considering how new it is and the fact that it’s a pilot. Over time, we expect this number to increase to 50-75%. »

The material was clean and well received at Quantum for conversion into energy, he said. The next round of grants will be awarded soon, and Meriden has applied to expand the program to 2,300 households, Dancy added.

When it became clear that the MIRA (Materials Innovation and Recycling Authority) waste-to-energy plant in Hartford was going to close, the state created the Connecticut Coalition for Sustainable Materials Management that brought together dozens of municipalities end of 2020 to develop waste management strategies.

Although the state has five waste-to-energy plants, pressure is growing to reduce waste as their capacity shrinks, according to DEEP.

DEEP is considering the small pilot project in Meriden and soon DEEP will award Sustainable Materials Management (SSM) grants starting from a $5 million pot for more pilot projects for which there are more than two dozen applicants . The city of Meriden is discussing with HQ the extension of the program to the city center.

“We’ve applied for additional DEEP grants for food diversion programs across the city,” said Deanell Fraser, Meriden’s sustainability advisor, who works in the city’s public works department.

In addition to environmental concerns, there is also a financial incentive for municipalities to participate in regional food waste reduction, DEEP said.

“With tipping fees for waste disposal increasing by 50% to 75% over the past two years, the economic impact for all residents is significant. Fully implemented programs could help reduce costs,” City Manager Tim Coon said at the start of the program.

Quantum Biopower in Southington is the state’s premier processor. Founded in 2016, Quantum processes 40,000 tonnes of food waste per year using a large anaerobic digester. The company creates biogas and compost from food waste that normally goes to a landfill or incinerator, according to the company’s website. The digester contains millions of microscopic bacteria that consume food waste and expel methane. Methane is captured and used as a fuel source that produces electricity and heat.

Traditional means of managing organic waste streams, such as landfills and composting, allow methane, a greenhouse gas, to escape into the atmosphere.

“Methane is twenty-one times more efficient at trapping heat than carbon dioxide, making methane capture not only the smart thing to do for the environment, but an abundant source of renewable energy,” according to the Quantum Biopower website. “By diverting energy into our process, we harness the gas emissions as a fuel for energy creation. Renewable energy can be used for on-site heat and power or sent over existing transmission lines. »

Quantum can also compress natural gas to make it a vehicle transportation fuel and power gas pipelines.

“With growing demand for natural gas, our facilities can help increase pipeline supply,” according to Quantum’s website.

Journalist Mary Ellen Godin can be reached at [email protected]

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