‘This is a solution:’ HRRA awarded grant to manage food waste

Photo of Alyssa Seidman

RIDGEFIELD — A more than $72,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture will help turn western Connecticut’s food trash into treasure by improving composting practices across the region.

The award is part of a nearly $2 million investment from the USDA to develop and implement municipal compost plans and food-waste reduction strategies nationwide.

The federal dollars will support the Housatonic Resources Recovery Authority in managing food waste locally and establishing a closed-loop composting system at the Ridgefield Recycling Center.

Residents currently bring their food scraps to the center to be transported to a local commercial processor, and the compost is returned in the spring. The grant will be used to build a solar-operated aerated static pile composting system on site, reducing costs and the carbon footprint, HRRA’s Executive Director Jennifer Heaton-Jones said.

“Food waste makes up 30 percent of our waste stream, and we have a waste crisis here in the state of Connecticut,” she said. “We produce more solid waste than we can ... dispose of. We don’t have enough landfill capacity because they’ve all closed, and we don’t have enough waste-to-energy plants because they are dying — this is a solution.”

The USDA estimates that Americans waste $161 billion in food every year, which equates to about $500 a person. U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), who announced the award, added that the methane generated by food waste contributes greatly to global warming and climate change.

Programs, like the one HRRA will bring to Ridgefield, are “a dynamic step towards a future that all of America must have,” he said.

Blumenthal explained what the ASP composting system does in layman’s terms: Air is forced into a contained pile of food waste, which decomposes the scraps without emitting fumes into the atmosphere.

Jeff Demers, owner of New England Compost in Danbury, said the system accelerates the decomposition process by “mimicking what nature does … (at) a quicker (pace),” breaking down whole foods in 30 days.

The grant will cover consultation, training, purchasing as well as public education and outreach over a two-year period, Heaton-Jones said. The authority plans to partner with Ridgefield’s Action Committee for the Environment to inform consumers about the importance of preventing food waste and donating food to local churches, food pantries and community shelters.

Moreover, the project will increase access to compost for residents, garden groups and local farmers, eliminating the need for synthetic fertilizers and further reducing the carbon footprint.

“This is a demonstration that hopefully brings attention to how, as a society, we are handling our mass solid waste, the opportunities to recycle and reduce the amount of waste we generate in this country,” First Selectman Rudy Marconi said. “I have more recycling than I do garbage. It’s incredible the difference it makes.”

Heaton-Jones said construction on the system should begin within the next month or so. She hopes that once the project takes root in Ridgefield, other municipalities will make the effort to emulate its sustainable practices.