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05/25/2023 07:44 AM

Kalyn D’Occhio: Don’t Waste Your Waste

Kalyn D’Occhio is co-chairperson of Sustainable Essex, and she has been working with Essex Elementary School this year on a composting project in which students dispose of compostable waste in one trash bin and non-compostable material in another. Photo by Rita Christopher/The Courier

Stop! Stop before you throw out that bit of congealed macaroni and cheese, the remnants of a long-forgotten dinner discovered in the back corner of the refrigerator. Kalyn D’Occhio has a better idea: compost it.

Kalyn is co-chairperson of Sustainable Essex, a group designed to encourage ways to protect the environment and work to mitigate the negative effects of climate change while understanding the economic and social realities of 21st-century living. The other co-chair is Katie Digianantonio.

Kalyn has been working with Essex Elementary School this year on a composting project in which students dispose of compostable waste in one trash bin and non-compostable material in another. A hauling company picks up the compostable material once a week and takes it to Quantum Biopower in Southington, where an anaerobic digestion process turns all those lunch leftovers into everything from biogas for useable energy to fertilizer.

A similar program has begun for Deep River Elementary School, and now Sustainable Essex, along with similar sustainability organizations in both Deep River and Chester, is having an online fundraiser for money to pay the hauling company to pick up compostable waste from all five Region 4 schools, the three elementary schools as well as John Winthrop Middle School and Valley Regional High School.

It costs $2,000 to haul the compostable waste yearly from each elementary school and $3,000 each for the middle and high schools. The Sustainable groups want to underwrite two years of trash hauling at each location and also to have funds for public education on composting. Sustainable CT, the umbrella sustainability organization in the state, will contribute $1.50 for every dollar raised locally. To contribute to the fundraiser, visit

At Essex Elementary School, volunteers at first helped students sort their garbage into the correct bins. Now, Kalyn says, the system works without problems.

Kalyn is not just talking about composting; she is doing it. On a recent visit to her home, there was a pot of composting material in the kitchen ready to go to a fenced-in composting pit in the backyard. The fence prevents animals from getting at the material.

“We just put it in there, and a month later, it is gone,” Kalyn says.

Other composting methods include the use of various types of bins.

Kalyn got involved with Sustainable Essex 2020 after the birth of her second son.

“I just felt I needed something else,” she says.

She attended a program by Sustainable Essex at the Essex Library and called the late Mike Long, who was deeply involved in the group’s work, to ask about volunteering. He told her to come to a monthly meeting, usually held at the Lower Connecticut River Valley Council of Governments (RiverCOG) location in Essex. She did, and she has been involved ever since.

Sustainable Essex is sponsoring a public program on Wednesday, June 14, at the Essex Library on the economic, recreational, and environmental value of Connecticut waterways.

In addition to her volunteer work with Sustainable Essex, Kalyn works part-time as a cardiac stenographer at Yale Cardiology at their Goose Lane location in Guilford. A cardiac stenographer uses ultrasound equipment to photograph a patient’s heart.

“I’m in a dark room all day taking pictures,” she explains.

Cardiac stenography was not something Kalyn thought about when she started college in her native Washington State. She discovered the field after graduation when she moved to Boston; an older sister was already there. Kalyn was hesitant about a cross-country move, but her sister told her to come for the summer, and if Kalyn liked it, her sister would help her move.

Kalyn first found an administrative position at Dana Farber Cancer Institute, but after learning about different kinds of jobs there, she became interested in cardiac stenography.

“There was a cardiac history in my family,” she explains. Kalyn qualified to be a cardiac stenographer through a program at Saint Francis Hospital in Hartford.

She found something else at Dana Farber, her husband Michael D’Occhio, now a dentist in Old Lyme.

Kalyn first came to Essex because friends regularly invited her and Mike for a holiday dinner at the Griswold Inn. The transition from big-city living in Boston to a small town was a challenge at first. But after more than a decade here, Kalyn is enthusiastic.

“I love it. It is like a magical bubble. I love raising kids here,” she says.

Kalyn tries to find time to do yoga in the morning. She has run several 5K races and two half marathons.

“I love to exercise, but with the little one waking up at 5:30, there is not much time,” she says.

She is eager for Sustainable Essex and its work to be better known locally. And she wants more people not only to know about composting but to become involved in doing it.

“Just think of how many resources we waste throwing out food,” she says. “The idea is to reduce waste and return nutrients to the earth.”

To contribute to the fundraiser to finance compost hauling for two years in Region 4 schools, visit

For more information on the work of Sustainable Essex, visit

Program on Connecticut Waterways, Essex Library, Wednesday, June 14 at 7 pm. Free and open to the public. Register in person or at 860-767-1560.