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11/2/2022 - Temporary Sustainability Committee Report

Report of the Temporary Committee on Sustainable Solid Waste Management
Deb Winsor, Chair

Our committee began meeting in late April of this year.  We are comprised of seven members representing a diverse range of interests and professional experience including contracting, public relations, a master gardener, accounting, and environmental science professionals.

Our stated mission is to study and make recommendations to the Board about appropriate practices and policies for promoting sustainable waste management.
Tonight I’d like to update you on our progress over the past six months. Our goals to this point have been to:
Survey the existing Town solid waste system,
Research emerging technologies and methods, and
Learn the balance sheet of the system.
This evening we are not presenting recommendations. We are simply giving you an update. Going forward we welcome your input, and that of the community, be it concerns, ideas, or experiences.

Several events prompted the creation of the sustainable solid waste committee.
On the state level the recent closure of MIRA , that’s an acronym for Materials, Innovation, and Recycling Authority, has been a shot across the bow in the municipal solid waste sphere. Our town, like many, has been sending it’s solid waste to MIRA to be incinerated for decades. The closure of MIRA and the inevitable closure other facilities means that the majority of Connecticut trash will, in time, be trucked to out-of-state landfills. At this time we cannot predict the long term upcharge for this trucking process, but we do know that over the past 5 years the tipping fees just to dump at MIRA increased 65% over 5 years.

This past spring Bob Martin scrambled to secure a contract with an alternative facility. That new contract has a two year price lock, so we have some breathing room while we explore ways to potentially reshape our solid waste program. But make no mistake about it, this is the time.

On the Town level
Canton has been through several iterations of solid waste management. Decades ago people simply threw their trash into their backyards or nearby woods, and backyard burning of garbage was common. Then we opened a public landfill and subsequently filled, capped, and closed it. Our current model of transferring solid waste someplace else to be buried or burned is once again proving to be financially unreliable and environmentally irresponsible.

Canton has been successful in reducing the volume of waste with supplemental recycling and recovery programs, some being mandated (like oil recovery and beverage deposits) and others our of own fiscal initiative (such as the mattress and tire recovery).

Based on our work thus far, our committee has taken the position that Canton wants to continue to do the right thing by both our wallets and our environment.

So, what we’ve done since April:

Inventory of existing Town resources and Programs
As a baseline, we did an inventory of our existing resources and programs. For this I would like to give Bob Martin a shout out. He gave us current and detailed financials for every can, bottle and tree stump that passes through the Transfer Station gates. He walked the transfer station property with us, explained the services, storage, equipment and related manpower in place, and detailed the many solid waste services offered by the Town.

We met with Mike Paine of Pane’s Recycling to learn what he he sees as opportunities in the future from a commercial hauler’s perspective. 65% of Canton’s households use a commercial hauler for their household trash.

In addition to that, we met with Superintendent of schools Kevin Case and 6th grade teacher Diana Hiza, who spearheaded a very successful food waste recovery program in the Intermediate School prior to Covid. Our committee would like to especially commend them for being ahead of their time and integrating the composting program into science curriculum.

We also visited the two sites that take the leaves from our Transfer Station at no cost to us. One is a local farm that uses them for compost, another is a tipping area that functions as passive decay site.

Visited and/or researched programs at other communities
We also visited and/or interviewed several other transfer stations in towns comparable in size to Canton, among them Litchfield, Durham, Wellfleet MA, and Southold, NY. Each town has components of waste removal, recycling, re-use, and composting. We also noted that each town’s solid waste services varied. Some do curbside pick-up, some are exclusively private hauling. Some chip brush, some burn brush. Some do single stream recycling, some do multi-stream recycling. All in all it has been a snapshot of municipalities exploring options.

One of our members researched and arranged a tour of the Avon Whole Foods grocery and their food waste collection program. Their food waste is separated from the waste stream and processed on site in a digester. It is then shipped to a compost-to-energy facility.

We also visited Flamig Farm in Simsbury where their Earthworks division has set up a for-profit composting program on a three acre site. Using relatively small equipment and two staff, it takes them 12 months to convert leaves and brush into salable compost, a product they market as “Spicy Compost”. It’s described in their brochure as a “yummy light mixture of leaves and manure’.

Earthworks charges a fee to accept leaves and brush from homeowners and towns. I mention the 12 month compost rate because as we’ve learned, how quickly you can make the cycle happen, is an important compost metric. One compost site we visited has a six month compost cycle which means that this autumns’ leaves are next spring’s dirt.

At the end of the summer we published some handouts and set up an informational booth at the Collinsville Farmers Market. While our time there was limited, it did provide an opportunity to get feedback from the public about the current and potential services of the transfer station.

Bob Curtis from the Litchfield Recycling Center describes how this mulch pile had been brush and leaves only six months earlier.

Finally, at the Transfer Station we gave a boost to a few initiatives
A paint recovery program is coming soon to the Transfer Station, at no cost to taxpayers. And, in August we expanded the metal recycling program by offering a one month no-permit-needed system for metals. Bob Martin had keyed us in to the fact that metals were (and still are) at an all time high price in the recycling market. The staff at the Transfer Station, Brian and Terry did a fantastic job of supporting this initiative by managing the increased traffic and explaining the system to non-permit holders. As a result, in the first four months of fiscal year 2022 the Town of Canton was paid $10,000 for recycled metal, a pace that is on track to possibly triple the metal revenue from the previous year.

I mention the metal recycling as an example of our process. As I said earlier, we want to do right by both our wallets and the environment, using a data driven approach. To illustrate this I would like to quickly share an snapshot of our process.

Examples of our data-driven approach
Currently the Transfer Station takes in 730 tons of leaves and brush each year. Accepting leaves and brush is a service; we take the stuff in and then we truck it back out, ‘transfer’ being the operative word. Leaves go to two private sites and brush goes out as course grindings for the dog park and other municipal ground cover. Grinding the brush costs about $5-8,000 per year, which at a glance seems a little pricey for ground cover material, but we need to move the inventory.

That said, by volume, a ton of raw leaf/brush will decay over time to become a quarter ton of compost. This process can take anywhere from 6 months to 3 years, depending on how intentionally it’s handled. Wherever those 730 tons of leaves and brush end up, they will decay and become 186 tons, or 365 yards, of good compost. At the current market rate, that current pile of raw leaves and brush has a future value of $18,250.

All this is to say that our Committee sees opportunity in that pile of leaves and brush
To add to that, let’s consider Household Waste. Canton pays to ship out 1000 tons a year, at $110 per ton. 20% of that is food waste and it’s compostable. Leaving aside for now where the food waste goes to be composted (which our committee is still researching), pulling food waste out of the trash stream could save $20,000 per year.

So in two paragraphs we’ve found potential savings of $38,000! Were it that simple.
I tally that up not to be simplistic or glib or clever, because clearly there’s a complex infrastructure behind everything we do. But we want you to know that we are looking at everything, turning over rocks as it were.

So, to summarize our first six months, I’d say we got educated. We’ve begun to wrap our hands around the current status of Canton’s solid waste system. We’ve researched existing and emerging technologies, bearing in mind the logistics and costs of both. We recognize that any discussion of solid waste will require significant public outreach and communication.

Like a new catch basin down the street, solid waste isn’t as jazzy as new uniforms for the basketball team. But, like the catch basin, trash is impactful when it stops working. That is our help build out an economical, functional, contemporary, and environmentally responsible system.

Speaking for all the members of the Temporary Sustainable Solid Waste Management Committee we’d like to thank you for the opportunity to present this evening and we look forward to hearing any ideas, concerns and experiences from the community.