Composting: it’s a term you’ve heard before, but this food waste management method is probably not something you’ve tried at home.
Yet, in nearby Vermont, composting is actually the law of the land; as of July 1, 2020, the state of Vermont has banned the disposal of food scraps in the trash. Residents have to separate their household food scraps from regular trash and recyclables, and either drop it off at local sites (like transfer stations), use curbside food scrap haulers, or compost it themselves at their homes.
And while it’s not the law in Connecticut, composting is catching on in Wilton.
“It’s widely accepted now that the best way to process food waste is to compost it, and not incinerate it or put it in a landfill,” says Nick Skeadas, owner of Curbside Compost, based in Ridgefield.
Food, it turns out, is about one-fourth of our trash can contents. Depending on your household composition and habits, it could easily be even more. Food waste isn’t just the scraps left behind on your plate; it includes everything from banana peels to egg shells, coffee grinds, rotisserie chicken skin and bones, even tea bags.
The Connecticut Department of Energy & Environmental Protection (DEEP) says food waste is the single largest component of solid waste sent to incinerators and landfills. (Within Fairfield County, it’s mainly incinerators.) Composting represents a more environmentally-friendly alternative, with benefits that include:
- Reducing the energy used to incinerate trash
- Reducing emissions that come from incineration plants (and methane gas created from food decomposition in landfills)
- Reducing “ash,” the byproduct of incineration, that must then be buried in landfills
- Alleviating the burden on incineration plants, often aging and in need of expensive maintenance or improvements
- Reducing the number of plastic trash bags used in the home
“As we become more [environmentally] responsible, we should [all] be thinking about these things,” said Skeadas.
Skeadas sees the role of composting in a much larger context, referring to the Food Recovery Hierarchy established by the EPA. Composting is clearly more desirable than sending waste to landfills or incineration, but preventing food waste in the first place, or donating unused food to the needy, is even more desirable. (Vermont’s Department of Environmental Conservation reported that food donation has tripled in the state since the composting law began rolling out in 2012.)
Viewing food waste as a valuable resource, not trash, Curbside Compost picks up food scraps from homes, offices, schools, markets, restaurants, and events in Fairfield and Westchester counties, and processes them at high-capacity composting locations. Pickups from Wilton homes take place on Tuesdays.
Then, the resulting compost has a second life in gardens, lawns, and farms, making soils healthier and reducing the need for chemical fertilizers. Finished compost, garden soil, or mulch may be purchased on demand, by the square foot/yard.
The program was designed to make it easy and convenient for residents to compost their food waste. Curbside Compost provides a 5-gallon lidded bucket, which customers leave out on pickup day (note: Wilton does not allow waste bins at the curb, so the company picks up in the customer’s driveway or outside the garage.) The buckets that are picked up are replaced with a clean bucket for the week.
Wilton’s Peggy Ottman admitted she had tried composting herself “but it was sort of a failure.” When she saw a Curbside Compost flyer at a Ridgefield yoga studio, she signed up.
“It was amazing what happened to our garbage bag [when we separated our food scraps]. It went down to one bag a week.” Ottman said. She praised Curbside Compost’s service and added, “Nick is so easy to work with.”
For Ottman, the compost pickup gives her a little peace of mind. “It’s one less thing to fret about: how much waste we’re putting in the trash.”
Tammy Thorton, another Curbside Compost customer in Wilton, also likes the convenience factor. “[Composting] can be involved,” said Thornton. “Curbside Compost could not be easier. Nick’s service really offers the best of both worlds, being able to take all of my food scraps, allowing them to be turned into a rich, usable product, and reducing food waste heading to the incinerator.”
Thornton is also president of Wilton Go Green, a volunteer group that emerged from the Wilton Energy Commission following the first Wilton Go Green Festival in 2010; the organization’s vision is for Wilton to be “the most sustainable town in Connecticut”. Thornton first became familiar with Curbside Compost as the food scrap hauler for the award-winning Zero Waste initiative in Wilton public schools. This reportedly includes about 2,000 pounds per week from Middlebrook School, for example, that would otherwise end up being incinerated.
Until July 17, 2020, Curbside Compost will donate $32 to Wilton Go Green for every new household in Wilton that signs up for residential weekly pickup service. That is the equivalent of a month’s pickup fees. New customers must type “Wilton Go Green” in the field labelled “Pick-Up Notes, Referral Name, Referral Organization” on the online signup form.
“We are very grateful for the partnership [with Curbside Compost],” said Thornton, acknowledging Curbside Compost’s donations and the synergies between the two organizations.
Still, Thornton recognizes that pickup fees may be a hurdle for customers signing up. “If people can’t afford pickup but are still [interested] in composting, Wilton Go Green has great resources for people who want to try it on their own.” Wilton Go Green recently hosted a webinar on composting that could be shared upon request. Thornton also mentioned a number of local experts who are available for advice (including Gail Reynolds of UCONN’s Master Gardener Program) and who are responsive to composting questions from the public.
DEEP also offers guidance and resources for composting novices. DEEP’s Composting And Organics Resource Page has book recommendations, videos and links to related websites. There is also a video entitled “Home Composting – Turning Your Spoils to Soil” available for download.
AND DID YOU KNOW…
Composting is food recycling. Make sure you have the latest information on everything you can recycle. The user-friendly RecycleCT Foundation website maintains a detailed “What’s In, What’s Out?” list and also provides a “wizard” that will tell you how to recycle or dispose of any item you type in.