Got Your Orange Bags? Waste Reduction Challenge Kicking Food Scrap Awareness, Recycling Into High Gear
The Public Works Department’s new household waste reduction challenge has officially kicked off, significantly expanding a recycling initiative that has been gaining momentum over the past few years.
Details regarding this stepped-up program have been distributed to all transfer station sticker holders via an informational flier. All sticker holders are encouraged to take part in this pilot program, which challenges Newtown residents to reduce their weekly household waste output to the volume of two standard-sized orange bags.
Public Works staff who have been engaged with the local food scrap recycling program since its introduction in 2016 acknowledge this behavior change — rooted in a culture that prefers to toss everything in the trash — “can initially be hard for many households.”
Funding for this pilot program is provided by the Sustainable Materials Management Grants Program administered by the CT Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (CT DEEP) through the Housatonic Resource Recovery Authority (HRRA).
About 4,000 transfer station permit holders will be given 104 specially colored “orange bags” free to use during this 52 week pilot program. The challenge is to get all weekly household garbage into two bags or less.
To help, participants will also be given a household food scrap collection kit that includes a six-gallon carry container, countertop collection bin, and rolls of food scrap collection bags. This increased food scrap collection will all stay on-site at the transfer station and be composted at a “new solar-powered” compost facility currently under construction.
One Ton Per Household
According to Transfer Station data, the average sticker-holding Newtown household delivers about 2,000 pounds or one ton of household waste to the transfer station every year. In practice, that amounts to an average waste production rate of around 40 pounds per household, per week.
Despite the apparent habit for trashing and dumping household garbage, Public Works staff members assure folks and families who want to change their ways that they will be supported through the reduction challenge.
As Public Works Director Fred Hurley explained, waste separation is the key to waste reduction.
“Around 20 percent of household waste is glass,” he told The Newtown Bee, “and another 20 percent on average is going to be those food scraps.”
Regulatory definitions of Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) affirm that observation, implying that only 40 percent of what is generally included in the waste stream is actually not reusable.
“You aren’t going to get that down by focusing on only one item,” Hurley admitted. But the data is incontrovertible: most of what is in the waste stream doesn’t have to be there.
From an environmental perspective, glass and food scraps are both powerful examples of the potentially disastrous effect of a failure at scale to engage in responsible waste separation.
Glass, for one, does not degrade biologically like organic materials, but takes hundreds of thousands of years to weather down into tiny dust-like particles. In this way, unrecycled glass waste, which might otherwise be a substantial resource, remains virtually unchanged for eons in landfills, taking up valuable space.
Food scraps, on the other hand, certainly do biodegrade. When buried in a landfill under the balance of the waste stream, however, they do so anaerobically or without oxygen.
This airless process of decomposition results in the generation and release of methane — a greenhouse gas understood to be 25 times as potent as carbon dioxide in trapping solar heat within the atmosphere.
By removing recyclable and compostable material from the general waste stream through the challenge, residents can make rapid progress on waste reduction while also mitigating serious environmental impacts.
This initiative for food scrap separation will coincide with the construction of the new composting facility, which is expected to be complete within two months. The new facility, with its Aerated Static Pile (ASP) architecture, promises to ensure the compost will be sanitary and well-contained while also meeting the demands of all residents.
Participants can quickly dispose of their orange bags and food scraps at the lower loop of the redesigned Transfer Station. At the end of the loop will be a separate 40-yard container just for the orange bags.
The food scrap deposit will be across from the orange bag container.
Hurley told The Bee the new compost facility will be located separately from the food scrap collection center, mitigating participants’ exposure to the smell.
According to a letter circulated to permit holders, the program’s environmental benefit is twofold.
First, it helps to address the practical problem of an 800,000 ton shortfall of Connecticut capacity to process and dispose of its own household waste.
Second, reduced use of resources is its own benefit for future generations because our current rates of consumption are not sustainable.
There are also two potential benefits financially to the permit users and taxpayers of Newtown. The permit fee is based on the historical average of one ton of household waste per permit holder annually.
The tip fee to process that ton of garbage is approximately $100, which is generally the cost of a permit.
By reducing the overall tonnage of household waste that requires a tip fee the town can also consider reducing the permit fees accordingly. A 25-50 percent reduction in tonnage can very easily lead to a 25-50 percent reduction in permit fees.
The second financial benefit of this program comes directly from increasing the quantity of compostable food scraps.
First, by composting on site the current transportation costs to take food scraps to an off-site compost facility can be eliminated. Second, the increased quantity of high-grade compost would allow the town to make high-grade topsoil available for use by Parks & Recreation or the Public Works Department, currently costing $28 a cubic yard.
Compost can also be made available to program participants.
Transfer station sticker holders willing to participate should visit either the transfer station at 4 Ethan Allen Road, or the Public Works Garage at 4 Turkey Hill Road. At either location, participants will be able to claim their food scrap collection kits along with their orange household waste bags.
Staff and volunteers will be available to address any concerns or questions.
Reporter Owen Tanzer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.