Sustainable Putnam

Food Scrap Recycling: another solution to food waste

Learn how you can “close the loop” in your household food waste stream through food scrap recycling. You’ll keep a significant amount of your waste out of landfills, while reducing emissions that contribute to climate change. Read on to learn more and help make food scrap recycling a reality in your town. Complete the form below to stay informed.

The phrase “throw it away” is no longer applicable on Planet Earth — if it ever was. That’s because there is in fact, no “away”. When our household waste is picked up at the curb, it’s generally landfilled — buried under several feet of earth — where organic waste slowly decomposes.  Food waste in particular decomposes anaerobically: without oxygen. That kind of decomposition produces methane, a greenhouse gas that’s 80 times more powerful than CO2 in its first 20 years.  Now there’s a way for anyone to “recycle” their food scraps into soil-building compost: it’s called food scrap recycling and it’s already available in Phillipstown. Now residents of Carmel (including Mahopac), Kent, and Putnam Valley are working to bring it to their towns.

Food and other organic waste decomposes very slowly in landfills, producing methane, a potent (and flammable) greenhouse gas that is often vented to the atmosphere to avoid potential explosions and/or fires. That’s good for the landfill; bad for the planet. One solution is to compost food waste keeping it out of landfills. Photo credit: Maine Department of Environmental Protection

Many homeowners are now composting yard and food waste. Coffee grounds, vegetable peelings, and produce that’s no longer fit for consumption can be easily returned to the earth by imitating nature’s cyclical process of decay and regeneration. The finished compost can go right into your garden, providing a free and natural fertilizer. But what to do with cooked grains, dairy and meat products, which can’t go into back yard composters?  And not all of us have yards for composting. 

Food scrap recycling is a solution that’s becoming available right here in Putnam County.  In a nutshell, it’s the commercial composting of food scraps using machinery and processes designed to handle large volumes in a short amount of time. Just like backyard composting, the finished product is a natural soil amendment. Locally, there are commercial composting facilities in Ulster County, and in Ridgefield, Connecticut.

Here’s how it works. Commercial composters, such as Curbside Compost of Ridgefield, pick up food scraps from municipal waste transfer stations and private businesses, and deliver them to their facility where it is mixed with other organic materials, heated, and aerated for the fastest possible aerobic decomposition. The finished, nutrient-rich compost is then sold to farms and garden nurseries, yielding a profit to the composting facility. 

Commercial composting companies such as Curbside Compost in Ridgefield, Connecticut are in the business of recycling food scraps from restaurants, supermarkets, and municipalities who help organize a residential drop-off point. Photo credit: Curbside Compost

Supermarkets, wholesale food distributors, and restaurants can contract with a composter for regular pickup. Many Hudson Valley towns have now made it possible for households to participate. They’ve established food scrap “drop off points” for at convenient locations such as their town hall or highway department parking lot. Last spring, Phllipstown residents Erik Brown and Karen Ertl organized to implement a food scrap recycling pilot program in their town earlier this year. 

“The food scrap recycling program is not meant to just provide our residents with another way to dispose of their waste,” said Ertl. “We also want to increase personal awareness about the waste a household generates and to provide options for reducing and recovering food scrap waste before it’s ‘garbage’. Our hope is to work together as a community to continue to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.”

Phillipstown launched its eight-month pilot program back in May. It was so popular that the town has already decided to make it a permanent program in the coming year. More than 164 households are already participating, and Karen estimates that the town has already diverted 25,600 pounds — nearly 13 tons — of food waste from a landfill!

Take action: Stay up to date on Food Scraps Recycling. Click the button below and complete the special Food Scraps Recycling form. We’ll keep you apprised of food scrap recycling news, and share an invitation to an upcoming food scrap recycling meeting.

Working with Ertl and other Phillipstown volunteers, Sustainable Putnam has begun to organize residents to advocate for food scrap recycling programs in their own towns. We meet regularly via Zoom to share information and discuss ideas to make food scrap recycling a reality everywhere.  To date, volunteers from Kent, Carmel (including Mahopac), and Brewster have joined the effort. More volunteers are still needed. 

Putnam residents learn from Scarsdale food scrap recycling pioneers, Michelle Sterling and Ron Schulhof at Scarsdale’s food scrap drop-off site. Bottom right, local food scrap recycling programs typically distribute a small kitchen countertop pail and a larger outdoor pail to use for drop-offs. Photo credit: Karen Ertl

4 thoughts on “Food Scrap Recycling: another solution to food waste”

  1. This is a great idea.
    Maybe we can have a food scrap collection area in town in Mahopac.
    Maybe each of the schools could have a collection site as well. The kids will bring their parents on board. It would have to be rodent proof.

  2. I’d like to join the effort for Brewster/Southeast area. This seems like a great project for the high school to take on and wondering if we can get a teacher or two and some students involved, maybe the Parent Assn. Just a thought.

    1. Welcome, Andria, and thank you for volunteering. Please click the “Food Scrap Recycling” button above to securely update your contact info, and automatically add yourself to our special Food Scraps Recycling email list. You’ll receive a notification and Zoom link for this Wednesday’s FSR meeting.

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