Originally printed in The Stamford Advocate

by Scott Smith, Communications Director

Connecticut’s trash crisis demands immediate attention, which is why it’s encouraging to see common-sense proposals from both Governor Ned Lamont (H.B. 6664) and State Representative Mary Mushinsky (H.B. 5577). Both bills focus on reducing the amount of material that ends up in the solid waste stream by ramping up the separation of food scraps — which make up roughly 22 percent of the state’s garbage — into composting facilities, as well as encouraging supermarkets and the like to donate surplus food to feed the hungry rather than throw it away.

Not only will this legislation go a long way toward addressing Connecticut’s trash crisis, diverting food waste from our garbage stream will also create opportunities to safeguard wildlife throughout the state.

Here’s how: Reduce leftovers as a food source for rats and mice and you alleviate the need to use the poisons that are killing off our hawks, owls, and foxes. Also advanced by the Environment Committee this session is S.B. 962. The bill would ban the use of second-generation anticoagulant rodenticides, which are lethal to raptors, foxes and other predators who consume rodents that have ingested SGARS. The bill was recently voted out of committee but needs strengthening amendments to restrict use of SGARs by commercial pesticide applicators. Why kill off the best, most natural solutions to rodent control? One family of barn owls can eat 3,000 rodents in a breeding season.

Similarly, keeping food waste out of residential garbage cans and commercial bins will also reduce unwanted interactions with Connecticut’s resurgent black bear population. Friends of Animals, an advocacy group based in Darien, supports legislation such as H.B. 5160, with amendments that would incentivize communities to help homeowners and businesses reduce the availability of food attractants to black bears in areas experiencing human-bear conflict.

What lures a wild bear from their home in the woods to your house? The smell of food scraps in your garbage can. A food-waste recycling and composting effort, coupled with a grant program to lower the cost of bear-resistant waste containers, would keep bears wild and people safe.

For these reasons and more, the need to pass legislation aimed at reducing food waste in Connecticut is urgent. The state’s landfills are crammed full, particularly with food scraps that generate climate-destroying methane gas. Food waste in landfills produces the third largest amount of methane emissions in the United States (15%), after petroleum production (30%) and animal gas and manure (27%), according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

The cost of transporting our excess trash out-of-state is skyrocketing, and exporting our waste problem is as environmentally ruinous as it is morally indefensible. Worse, Connecticut’s in-state incinerators, not an ideal power-generating solution to start with, are chronically gummed up by all our sodden, rotting food waste.

A transition to recycling surplus food and composting food waste would combat all these problems and more—such as helping improve our state’s declining soil health and biodiversity with scalable amounts of locally produced compost.

Today, 31% of food that is grown, shipped or sold is thrown away. Practical solutions to the food-waste crisis are already working in other states: California now requires grocery stores and restaurants to recover a large portion of their edible food and donate it to those in need. It also calls on residents to toss unused food into bins they use for other “green” waste, such as lawn clippings and leaves.

New York state kicked off 2022 by requiring businesses making two tons of food waste per week or more to donate edible foods to those in need or to recycle food scraps, with most going to create compost. And in Meriden, CT, a pilot program involving 1,000 households has them putting food waste in plastic bags alongside their regular trash. It is being turned into renewable energy and compost, diverting 2.5 tons of food scraps a month from the waste stream.

These efforts are reasonable; they are attainable. The goal of California’s new state law is to reprocess 75% of green waste by 2025, turning it into compost or using it to create biogas, an energy source that is similar to natural gas. In South Korea, only 2% of food waste was recycled in 1995. That number is now up to 95%.

It’s well past time for Connecticut to take a systemic, holistic approach to reducing food waste, to restoring the environment, protecting wildlife, and mitigating the climate. Pass these proposed bills together—reduce food waste and promote composting; ban deadly rodenticides; and reduce bear-human interactions by eliminating food attractants. Do that, and the Environment Committee will have given Connecticut residents a win-win-win pathway to a better, more sustainable future for all.