Food waste. It's been called recycling's final frontier.
While many people know the joy of turning those banana peels, coffee grounds, eggshells and wilted lettuce leaves into rich compost for their backyard gardens, composting doesn't always come naturally. Some people worry about vermin, about odors, about the nuisance of separating the organic treasure from the trash — or even where to put a compost bin in a small yard.
New rules are set to go into effect on Jan. 1, requiring that large-scale food scrap generators that don't already do so send their food waste to an organic material composting facility, if there's one within 20 miles. The state law applies to businesses that generate more than 104 tons of food scraps per year — 2 tons per week — such as food wholesalers and distributors, industrial food manufacturers and processors, large supermarkets, and resorts and conference centers. Municipalities, hospitals and schools are exempt from the law, though still encouraged to recycle their food scraps.
As of now, there are only three permitted composting facilities in the state, said K.C. Alexander, organics recycling specialist with the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. The law, which the General Assembly passed in 2010, is aimed at encouraging more organics recycling facilities to operate in the state.
It's a start. But it leaves out the leftovers and other food waste from millions of home kitchens.
A few weeks ago Susannah Castle stepped into the food scrap breach, launching a new home pickup service in Hartford and West Hartford called Blue Earth Compost. In return for weekly pickups of food scraps — including meat, dairy products, shellfish and pet food, which many people won't throw into their backyard composts — Blue Earth Compost periodically supplies customers with organic-rich garden compost from Harvest New England, a composting facility in Ellington whose compost is approved for food production use by the Northeast Organic Farming Association.
"I'm a problem solver," said Castle, who moved to Hartford a year ago. Prior to her marriage in July she lived in an apartment building, where residents occasionally received notices about their trash.
"That's where the idea started percolating, that this would be a great environment for folks to compost," she said.
Castle, 37 — who earned a graduate degree in environmental management from Duke University and later worked for the Green Plus program of the Institute for Sustainable Development in Durham, N.C. — began researching municipal composting programs around the country, including San Francisco, which has done curbside pickups of food scraps since 1996. Portland, Oregon, launched its curbside composting program two years ago, and that city's Bureau of Planning and Sustainability reported that in the first 12 months of the program, Portland reduced the residential garbage collected curbside by a whopping 38 percent.
"There are lots of private folks like me that are popping up around the country to fill the gap, where [curbside composting is] not municipally regulated," Castle said, mentioning Bootstrap Compost and Black Earth Compost in Massachusetts, Compost Now in Durham and Compost Cab in Washington, D.C. "I love the idea of the patchwork quilt of folks doing this. It does take a lot of local connection, local presence."
Castle said Connecticut is doing "some really great things to encourage composting by large generators, but the small generator — the household — is largely ignored. The household food scrap waste is a significant contributor to our waste stream. ... We throw out, on average, 40 percent of the food that we purchase, for a variety of reasons, as leftovers or as things go out of date. That's crazy."
A DEEP study last year found that nearly a third of residential waste is organic — food scraps, compostable paper and yard and leaf waste — that can be composted, rather than thrown in the garbage to be burned.
Blue Earth Compost supplies customers with 4-gallon bins that each hold up to 13 pounds of food waste, along with compostable liners made from corn starch and a plant resin called Mater-Bi. The liners, called BioBags, start to break down in a compost pile in two weeks.
For now, the average weekly pickup is about 10 pounds, though that could change, as Blue Earth lines up small businesses and cafes as customers.
"She's really got a great program," said Chris Field, regional vice president of Harvest New England. He said that as far as he knows, Blue Earth Compost is the only company in Connecticut that does residential pickups of food scraps.
"We'd really like to see it work," he said. "We think it's wonderful to see someone taking an idea and running with it. We think it's a great thing for the environment and the state as a whole. You're not going to see Waste Management stopping by and picking up someone's compost from the kitchen."
Castle said she maps out her Wednesday pickups along the most efficient route possible. Her last stop before heading to Harvest New England's composting facility is Breakthrough Magnet School in Hartford, where she developed a pilot program with a class of kindergartners who work on a garden in the spring.
When she talked to the class, she said, "they're all sitting around in a circle, and I'm answering question after question after question about compost. And I kept thinking to myself, how cool would it have been if I'd known about compost when I was that young."
And, she added, their teacher said the kids have begun to change what they grab for lunch. "They don't want it to be wasted."
Castle also said she's heard from customers who have children.
"I've had so much feedback from parents who say, 'This is incredible. My kids are connecting the dots. ... They feel like they're helping.'"
Castle said she really hopes that people will start to think about recycling food scraps the same way they think about recycling plastic, glass, metal and paper.
"They said that was impossible, and look where we are."
For more information, go to http://www.blueearthcompost.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.Copyright © 2015, CT Now