Meriden officials hope to expand food waste diversion program



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MERIDEN — The city recently ended a four-month co-collection program aimed at diverting food waste from the state’s landfills and has applied to expand it to 2,300 more homes. 

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

The Meriden households are customers of HQ Dumpsters & Recycling in Southington, a trash hauler who participated in the scrap collection program. The participating households, located outside the inner city, scraped their plates and cooking pots into green bags to be turned into bio-gas at Quantum Biopower in Southington. Household trash was put in different colored bags.

The $40,000 in pilot funds covered the purchase of the special color-coded bags for food scrap separation over the four-month duration of the project, as well as personnel to sort the bags, and the shipment of food scraps to Quantum Biopower.

“We are working to come up with a sustainable path,” said Jack Perry, owner of HQ Dumpsters & Recycling and a Southington town councilor. “It’s always been my goal to divert as much as I can. The great thing is the conversations the pilot started. ‘How do you make this as efficient and easy as possible?’”

Some weeks were heavy and some weeks had less volume, Perry said. He and data collectors at WasteZero, a state consultant on the project, are reviewing the figures to submit to the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.

“We want to know, what were the variables?” Perry asked. “Was it human error? People not putting out bins? We are looking back on trends, certain weeks highs and low. See if we had as much participation as possible. This allows us to grab all this and look at this data, and see how we broaden this to other municipalities.”

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

“We saw over 50% weekly participation in food waste collection,” said WasteZero President Mark Dancy. “Nearly 100% of all waste was collected at homes on the route. About 25 percent of that ended up in the green bags. That is what we expected given the newness and the fact that this is a pilot. Over time, we would expect that number to grow to 50-75 percent.”

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

As it became clear the MIRA (Materials Innovation and Recycling Authority) trash-to energy plant in Hartford was going to close, the state created the Connecticut Coalition for Sustainable Materials Management. The group pulled together dozens of municipalities in late 2020 to figure out waste strategies.

Although the state has five trash-to-energy plants, the pressure is rising to reduce garbage as their capacity shrinks, according to the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.

DEEP is eyeing the small pilot project in Meriden and shortly DEEP will be awarding Sustainable Materials Management grants from a pot of $5 million for more pilot projects for which there are more than two dozen applicants. The city of Meriden is talking with HQ about expanding the program to the inner city.

“We have applied for additional DEEP grants for food diversion programs throughout the city,” said Deanell Fraser, Sustainable Meriden advisor, who works in the city’s Public Works Department.

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

“With tipping fees for waste disposal seeing 50% to 75% increases over the past couple of years, the economic impact to all residents is significant. Fully implemented programs could help keep costs down,” City Manager Tim Coon said at the program’s outset.

Quantum Biopower in Southington is the first processor in the state. Founded in 2016, Quantum processes 40,000 tons of food waste per year through a large anarobic digestor. 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. The methane is trapped and used as a fuel source that makes 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 which makes capturing methane not only the smart thing to do for the environment but an abundant source of renewable energy,” according to Quantum Biopower’s website. “By deriving energy in our process we are harnessing gas emissions as fuel for energy creation. The renewable energy can be used for heat and power on site or sent over existing transmission lines.”

Quantum can also compress natural gas into a vehicle transportation fuel and supplies natural gas pipelines.

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

Reporter Mary Ellen Godin can be reached at mgodin@record-journal.com.



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