Darien’s residential food scrap recycling program is now putting one candle on its cake.

The program started last October and has been steadily growing ever since. Several hundred town residents are now participating in it each week.

Through the program, food scraps get recycled into compost — a decomposed organic matter, which has many beneficial uses, including improving soil health.

For the first 11 1/2 months of the program, over 32 tons of food scraps have been removed from municipal solid waste, according to Darien resident Carolyn Bayne of the Darien Advisory Committee on Sustainability, which is behind the program.

This amount has been increasing each month as more residents participate in the program. Bayne said she hopes it continues to grow.

How it works

Residents collect food scraps in a container. Food scraps can include fruits and vegetables, meat and poultry, fish, dairy products, bread and pasta, rice and grains, egg shells, chips and snacks, nuts and seeds, and even leftover and spoiled food.

However, all stickers, rubber bands and ties must be removed from produce, and no plastic bags, plastic packaging or wrappers are permitted.

Residents take their filled container to the Food Scrap Recycling drop-off at the Darien Recycling & Refuse Center, 126 Ledge Road, from Monday to Saturday, 7 a.m. to 2:45 p.m.

All food scraps are taken to commercial composting facilities in Danbury, New Milford, and Southington, where they are processed into compost that’s sold to farmers, landscapers, and garden centers.

Compost improves soil health and structure, which maximizes plant growth, improves drainage, and reduces the need for fertilizer and pesticide use.

“People don’t have to register to do this,” Bayne said. “They can just drop off their food scraps at the recycling center and have it taken away.”

Though not required, starter kits, as well as additional rolls of compostable bags, can be purchased at the Department of Public Works Office at Darien Town Hall, 2 Renshaw Road.

“We’ve sold about 250 kits, so many use their own containers,” Bayne said.

The program, which is voluntary, is partially funded by an Innovation grant for about $8,500 from the RecycleCT Foundation.

The Recycle CT Foundation is a nonprofit organization that supports programs aimed at increasing the rate of recycling and reuse in the state.

“The RecycleCT Foundation enabled us to start the program,” Bayne said.

Benefits of recycling food scraps

Food scraps make up the single largest component of municipal solid waste — more than 21 percent, by Environmental Protection Agency estimates.

However, food scraps are not waste, they contain energy and nutrients that can be turned into useful compost.

The town pays $94 a ton to haul its municipal solid waste to Bridgeport, where it’s burned.

Food waste tends to be wet and does not burn well, reducing the efficiency of the incineration process, Bayne said.

Feedback

Those who are participating in Darien’s residential food scrap recycling program “really love it,” said Bayne, adding she hopes to keep the program running every year.

“So many people have said they wanted to compost in their backyard and never have,” she said.

People are saying they only have to empty their garbage can once every other week, according to Bayne.

In addition, garbage odor is eliminated, since, “if you’re not putting food in your trash can, it’s a lot less likely that it’s going to smell,” she added.

Darien resident Laura Mosher said recycling food scraps is the “easiest thing in the world to do, and has such a big impact.”

“We are keeping food scraps out of the landfill and making high quality composting,” Mosher said.

Mosher keeps her recycle bucket in her kitchen. It’s lined with compostable bags. As they get full, all the compostable bags go into a larger bucket, which she keeps in her garage.

The bags go to the dump once a week, according to Mosher. “My husband takes it over and empties them out.”

When deciding to participate in the program, she said the “game changer” for her was knowing that the town’s expenses in taking away the waste was going to go down.

“In your home, it’s just a matter of remembering to put your food scraps in a bucket,” she said. “It is easy and you feel like you’re doing something good.”

“This is something at the local level that is really, really easy that people can do that they will feel good about,” said Bayne, “and it’s making a difference.”

For more information on Darien’s Food Scrap Recycling Program, email recycle@darienct.gov or visit the town website and search Food Scrap Recycling Guide.

sfox@darientimes.com