There's a new national effort underway by the grocery industry to do something about the ungodly amount of food Americans throw away, tens of millions of tons a year that end up as garbage in our already overflowing landfills or as incinerator smoke and ash.

One major goal of this campaign by the Grocery Manufacturer's alliance is to cut the amount of waste food that needs to be disposed of, which means they should probably check with some Connecticut officials who tried their own experiment along those lines a few years ago.

The towns of Stonington and Groton got a $70,000 state grant in 2002 to do something different with all the food garbage thrown out by restaurants, grocery stores, big tourist attractions like Mystic Seaport and major institutions like the U.S. Navy Submarine base on theThames River.

The idea was to turn all that thrown-out food into high-quality compost. That way the food-compost could be sold to gardeners, and the project might even help lower local trash disposal costs.

Food waste accounts for the largest amount of nonindustrial garbage by weight that goes into American landfills, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. By some estimates, wasted food totals about 200 pounds a year for every man, woman and child in this country.

The Stonington-Groton experiment only lasted two years, but in that time officials estimated they'd composted more than half a million pounds of garbage that would otherwise have been buried or burned.

"There certainly were a lot of positive things about it," says John Phetteplace, Stonington's solid waste manager. "We'd be happy to try it again."

There were also some expensive problems, which was why the state and those towns didn't attempt to turn the experiment into an ongoing program. But Phetteplace says his town is right now talking with several other municipalities about the possibility of creating a new and improved version of that 2002 trial.

The voluntary experiment in Stonington and Groton involved giving participating businesses and institutions with special food garbage bins. The bins would be picked up by a special truck and taken to a composting operation.

And that's where things got difficult. Turned out the nearest large-scale composter was the Earth Care Farm in Rhode Island. "The truck had to travel 45 to 50 minutes each way," says Phetteplace, explaining that those transportation expenses made the whole thing unworkable.

"If we'd had a closer disposal site, it would have been cost effective," he says.

There were other problems as well, according to Phetteplace.

In the winter, the garbage would freeze in the bins, which required special steam heaters to loosen things up. In the long hot days of summer, the garbage just got real stinky real fast.

"There were too many odor issues," explains Phetteplace.

He believes there are some simple answers that could make the program work, especially finding a local composting operation. Skipping the troublesome months of January, February and August might also make everything easier and less smelly for everybody.

Americans are becoming more aware of the need to recycle paper, cans, bottles and organic material like lawn waste and leaves. Phetteplace thinks recycling food waste into usable compost is also on the rise, pointing out that major cities like Toronto have already begun curbside food-waste collection programs.

It can't happen too soon. The New York Times reports that only about 2 percent of food waste is being recycled or composted, and that the amount of food being composted has actually decreased in the past 20 years.

"Overall, more and more people are doing composting," Phetteplace says, adding he hopes his town and others in this state will renew efforts to cut the amount of food waste being burned or buried.

"I think there's a way to make it cost effective," he adds, "if you pay attention to some of the details."