Danbury area recycling authority looks to expand programs to turn leftover food into a resource

Photo of Kendra Baker

SHERMAN — In an effort to combat the state’s solid waste crisis, the Housatonic Resources Recovery Authority is looking to expand its food scrap recycling program.

The organization known as HRRA is sponsoring a survey to gauge Sherman residents’ interest in a local food scrap drop-off program designed to turn leftover food into a resource, rather than waste.

“Sherman reached out with an interest to start a collection program for organics, so the first step was to get the temperature of residents — see if they have an interest, and what they’re willing and not willing to do to begin separating their food scraps,” said Jennifer Heaton-Jones, executive director of the regional, governmental, waste management and recycling authority.

She said residents’ responses to the survey — available at bit.ly/ShermanScrapSurvey — will determine which direction the HRRA will take.

Sherman residents currently have the option of dropping off their organic materials at New Fairfield’s transfer station, requiring the purchase of a permit.

But the organization could open a localized option if residents are interested, Heaton-Jones said,

“We could also set up a one-day-a-week collection where residents bring their organic materials to a designated area in town and drop them off in a container,” she said

The organic materials would then be collected and transported to nearby farms to be turned into compost.

“Once we find out what their interests are, as well as what they’re willing to pay for, then we can sort of design a program around that,” Heaton-Jones said.

She said the HRRA plans to also launch a survey for Kent residents after the town recently expressed interest in the program.

Reducing the amount of food reaching landfills and incinerators by separating organic material from trash is “part of addressing our solid waste crisis in the state of Connecticut,” Heaton-Jones said.

Separating food scraps from waste is “the first place to start” in addressing waste reduction, she said, noting that there’s also a cost-saving aspect.

Heaton-Jones said unseparated organic materials get sent to a waste energy plant in Bridgeport, and municipalities pay for disposable by weight.

Organics are the heaviest material in the state’s waste stream, driving up costs, she said.

“We’re paying more than we need to when it comes to solid waste disposable.” Heaton-Jones said.

Not only do food scrap programs help reduce waste and save towns money, but they provide an environmental benefit.

“Instead of incinerating organic material, we make it into compost — a soil amendment — which we need more of for our farms and agricultural lands,” Heaton-Jones said.

Five of the HRRA’s 12 member towns already have food scrap recycling programs.

Residents of New Fairfield, Ridgefield and Redding can drop off food scraps at their respective municipal recycling centers, and Bridgewater offers a free food scrap drop-off at its town garage. There is also a drop-off program in Newtown.

In addition to establishing food scrap programs in other member towns, the HRRA is working on improving its existing ones, Heaton-Jones said.

For example, the HRRA is looking to make the Ridgefield program more “self-sustainable” and “cost-effective” by having the materials composted on-site rather than being transported to an off-site location, she said.

The organization plans to enlist New Fairfield and Ridgefield high school interns this spring to help increase participation in the programs, too.

“The two high school students will be working with us to improve participation and increase public education and awareness around organics collection,” she said. “There are people who aren’t aware of the programs, so we’re going to allow (the interns) to explore their interest in environmental studies and help us improve our programs.”

More than 70 people have already responded to the Sherman survey, Heaton-Jones said.

“Once the survey results are tallied, we will begin to have a conversation with the first selectman to determine the next path to take for the program,” she said.