New composting facility opens in Ridgefield: ‘A major part of our future’

Photo of Sandra Diamond Fox

RIDGEFIELD — A new composting facility will give residents more access to composting.

About two dozen people gathered Friday afternoon at the Ridgefield Transfer Station at 55 South St. to celebrate the opening of the facility, named the Lee Sawyer Composting Site.

Jennifer Heaton Jones, executive director of the Housatonic Resources Recovery Authority in Brookfield, said the goal of the $96,000 municipal solar-aerated composting facility is “to create a self-sustaining, closed-loop composting system for transforming residential food waste into an end product for community and agricultural use. This innovative project will demonstrate that municipalities can manage food waste locally, reduce the carbon footprint of offsite disposal and contribute to the waste diversion goals of the state.”

Ridgefield First Selectman Rudy Marconi said the facility represents, “although a small project, a major part of our future as we continue to proceed as a society in looking at recycling. We're getting great soil back that people come down every year to pick up ... for their gardens. And it's just truly a wonderful project that I think is going to do nothing but expand here.”

To use the system, residents may place their container into a designated collection bin at the town’s recycling center, on 59 South St.

The organic material collected will be brought to the composting site at the transfer station by staff. Staff will then incorporate the food waste with municipal leaves and process the material into compost. When the compost is ready for use, it will be available for the community to use throughout the year, Jones said.

Dropping off food waste is free, however an annual transfer station permit is required to participate.

The facility is dedicated to Lee Sawyer, a former state Department of Energy and Environment Chief of Staff Lee Sawyer, who died unexpectedly in 2020.

“Lee was incredibly dedicated to the mission of DEEP,” Jones said. “He was instrumental in the creation of the Recycle CT foundation.”

Launching the project was made possible through a $73,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, contributions from Ridgefield Scouts through a can drive, and other grants.

Additional grants are being sought for equipment to run the facility.

History of recycling

The town began recycling in the late 1980s when its first recycling center opened with Walt McNamara, a longtime town resident, Marconi said.

“Walt put his heart and soul into that building out there where residents actually had to come in and separate everything by hand. But the good news was there was no contamination,” Marconi said. “What we sold ... was really pure and clean, and it did help pay for everything, so the important point and lesson learned is that recycling can be profitable. We need the volume to get it done.”

The town began an organic collection program in Ridgefield in 2015 where residents could bring their food waste and pay $3 a bucket, and the material was picked up by Curbside Compost, “who would drive it to all the way to Danbury, to New England Compost or to New Milford Farms, and this would be processed and it would be made into compost. And then in the spring, it would be brought back to Ridgefield for the residents to use,” Jones said.

She added the process of driving “back and forth” was both inconvenient and not environmentally friendly.

“The town was creating a huge carbon footprint of picking it up here, driving it across several towns and bringing it back.” Jones said. “So, I always knew I wanted to make this program self sustainable.”

Jones added the new composting facility will now make it possible for residential organic material generated in Ridgefield to stay in Ridgefield, where it will be transformed into compost using the solar powered ASP composting system.

Bethel First Selectman Matt Knickerbocker, chairman of the Housatonic Resource Recovery Authority, said Connecticut is undergoing “a waste crisis.”

“Indeed, our entire country — if it's not going through a waste crisis, it's about to. We have dwindling landfill area. We have numerous waste to energy plants that are older technology and they are gradually phasing out or aging out.”

Knickerbocker said: “There isn't one silver bullet that's going to fix that. It's going to be hard work and innovative solutions like the one we see here. It's going to be reducing the amount of waste. It's going to be recycling more effectively and finding more ways to recycle more items, and this is a major first step to get that done.”

State Rep. Aimee Berger-Girvalo, D-Ridgefield, spoke about the importance of recycling and called upon all attendees to encourage and promote recycling efforts of their neighbors.

“You need to assure your neighbors that when they are recycling, it is worth it because it is actually making a difference when they compost,” Berger-Girvalo said. “Talk to your neighbors ... share this information because what we need to do, we have to do together.” 203-948-9802