For years Ledyard residents have joined neighboring towns in recycling paper, bottles and cans – even garbage, which is burned to produce energy at the Preston facility. Indeed, once the idea of recycling becomes part of the culture, almost anything is fair game.
Take waste oil, for example. Anyone who has ever changed the oil in a car or lawnmower may have wondered what to do with this foul, filthy substance.
Ledyard decided to heat its public works garage and truck shed with it.
The town produces about 4,000 gallons of waste oil per year, between its fleet of municipal vehicles and oil that is brought to the transfer station by commercial and residential users. There is a market for reprocessed waste oil, which for Ledyard has meant that it could dispose its waste oil for free.
Still, 4,000 gallons is a lot of oil to give away if it could be used to offset the high cost of propane and heating oil.
Waste oil is dense and loaded with fine metal filings and other particles that could clog a normal oil burner. Before waste oil can be used for heating, some special equipment is required.
Last year, Ledyard invested in two waste oil burners that pre-heat and filter the oil before it is burned. At $15,000 apiece, the innovative, forced-hot-air heaters aren't cheap. But Public Works Director Steve Masalin said the technology should easily pay for itself within five years.
Last winter the town saved around $6,500 by burning waste oil. Some of the savings came from the propane that was not used.
"We saved about $2,200 in propane costs alone," Masalin said. "Of course, it's kind of hard to argue the environmental benefit, because we're still burning it, but I suppose we have to burn something."
An even greater savings, however, was in electricity. By burning the waste oil, Masalin said, "there was no need to plug in the 10 block heaters that we were using for the diesel trucks."
And when a recycled resource, once discarded, now results in costs savings and also reduces the town's power needs, there is really no need to argue.
Note: This article is the second in a series on environmental initiatives in Ledyard.