Billings Forge Takes Innovative Approach to Waste Reduction: Community Composting
Hartford, CT – Anyone who thinks that composting is only for those with big yards and plenty of time will be surprised to hear about what is happening in Hartford. At Billings Forge - an affordable housing complex that is also host to a cafe and farm-to-table restaurant - a new program began this July to tackle the massive amount of food being thrown away. The goal of the program is to divert as much food scraps as possible from incineration and instead to ensure that they are delivered back to soil, which the residents and restaurants will use for their gardens.
The 1-year pilot is sponsored by the CT Department of Energy and Environmental Protection as part of their Recycle CT Innovation Grants. According to their website, “the goal of the Innovation Grant is to fund new and innovative processes, programs, or demonstration projects in the areas of waste reduction, reuse, recycling and composting in Connecticut”.1
The grants are meant to help the State of Connecticut reach its goal of 60% diversion of recyclable material by 2024. Most experts believe that this goal will only be reached if the collection of compostable material is greatly increased. This program tackles a portion of this large issue by focusing on food scraps produced at the consumer level - in homes and restaurants. According to the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, 50% of municipal solid waste is compostable2.
Billings Forge does not have the space or resources required to compost the many tons of food waste they produce every year, so they have partnered with local company, Blue Earth Compost, to collect them and bring them to an approved composting facility in Southington. That facility, Quantum BioPower, is also able to produce electricity through the process of anaerobic digestion. This procedure makes even more benefit by feeding that renewable electricity back into the grid.
Residents participate in the program with a bag-lined 4-gallon pail with a lid. When they fill their pail they bring it down to the trash room and there is a specially marked container to deposit it into. They then grab a new bag and repeat the process. For the restaurants, they use larger containers with wheels and follow the same steps. Once a week, Blue Earth Compost collects these containers and replaces them with new, cleaned ones.
“By most accounts, Americans waste about 40% of the food we grow every year. We can do a lot to make sure that feeds more hungry mouths, but we also need to ensure that we are responsible with whatever we waste,” said Sam King from Blue Earth Compost. “We’re really excited about our partnership at Billings Forge because we are bringing this opportunity to people that would normally not have access to this important activity”.
Billings Forge Community Works – the non-profit that runs the programming for the community - was chosen for the pilot because of their “food-centric” approach to community development. In addition to running three food businesses, a farmers’ market, and cooking classes, they also host culinary job training in a neighborhood where job opportunities can be scarce.
Becky McGuigan, Chef and Director of Programs and Workforce Development, was an early advocate of the idea. “The composting program is providing one more level of education to our staff and program participants about how they can be active in waste reduction. Every one of the programs offered at Billings Forge Community Works deals with food in one way or another, from the farmers market to the restaurants. We have seen a lot of excitement among staff to be participating in this program and there is a lot of learning going on about what products can be composted- it is making everyone more aware of the waste they make,”
The pilot program will run until July of 2018 and will be evaluated based on participation levels, contamination levels, and potential cost savings for the building owners. At that point, all parties will decide whether the program will continue beyond the state financing. Sam King already sees the process as a success though. “Either way, we’ll have educated hundreds of people about composting, improved our soil, air, and water and proved that community composting is possible in Hartford. Sounds like a win to me”.