HAVERHILL — The city will use a $49,000 state Recycling Dividends Program grant to launch a pilot program in which organic waste such as food will be turned into compost or converted into energy.

Gunther Wellenstein, the city’s solid waste manager, said about 25% of residential trash is organic materials, including food waste such as banana peels, apple cores and peas and carrots scraped from dinner plates as well as yard waste such as leaves and grass.

“Every ton of waste we collect curbside gets weighed at Covanta then goes into the incinerator,” he said. “Not only is it expensive, but it’s in the state’s interest to remove organic material as well as recyclable materials.”

Participating residents would be asked to save their food waste in specific containers and bring them to the recycling center on Primrose Street each week, where the waste will then be transferred to a vendor who would convert it into compost or into energy through the use of an anaerobic digester, like the kind Vanguard Renewables operates at Crescent Farm in Bradford.

The program could launch as early as next spring.

“We want to make sure we receive approval from the mayor and council, and we would seek Board of Health permits and Mass. DEP authorization,” Wellenstein said.

The goal is to decrease the amount of waste that goes to Convanta, which charges the city $65 per ton, he said.

“We already have about 600 visitors to the recycling center on Wednesdays and Saturdays who drop off grass, leaves and brush as well as items such as propane tanks and tires, so it would be smart to combine trips,” he said. “There are communities such as Hamilton and Wenham that have already expanded this to a curbside program for weekly food waste pickup. There are towns that are years ahead of us.”

Wellenstein said previous recycling grants paid for a new digital message board at DPW, plastic bag (film) drop-off at the recycling center, mailing 2022 recycle calendars to about 24,000 households, expanding TV drop-off at the recycling center, and providing compost bins, 22 gallon recycling bins and orange overflow trash bags, all for a discounted price to residents.

“We also purchased 80 backyard composting bins and plan to purchase 80 more,” he said, noting the city pays $50 each for the bins and sells them for $25 each.

“There will be a cost to the pilot program as we may need to install a rodent-proof receptacle for the food waste and we’ll have to pay an approved vendor for pickup,” he said. “Yes it may be additional costs, but you’re removing material from the trash stream and landfills.”

The grant will also pay for providing outreach and education about textile (clothing) diversion, prior to a state waste ban being enforced after Nov 1, 2022.

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