Westchester County Takes Public Comment on Food Waste Study


Westchester County DEF commenced a comprehensive Food Waste Study to analyze the County’s waste stream and determine how much food waste can potentially be diverted from both the residential and commercial waste streams to food rescue programs.  The effort is to assist those with food insecurity and for recycling programs. The study will also examine all of the potential technologies available for processing food waste, including utilizing digesters located at the County’s water resource recovery facilities, anaerobic food waste digesters and composting.  All options are being considered while taking into account siting availability, permitting issues, cost and environmental benefit, in an effort to determine the best course of action for Westchester.

Westchester help a public meeting on May 9th at the County Center to garner input and to present the scope and plan of the study. Here is what we said:

Good evening, my name is Braeden Cohen. I am here representing Sustainable Materials Management Inc-- Westchester’s first commercial food scraps composting facility. It will come as no shock that we are BIG supports organics recycling in Westchester. My message tonight is simple: composting is a systems thinking solution for waste management, the fight against climate change and its environmental impacts. Composting reduces greenhouse gas emissions and physically sequesters carbon in the form of compost-- a product whose widespread use has the ability to mitigate the environmental impacts of climate change.

The latest IPCC and UN reports have made it abundantly clear: we need to make rapid, radical and transformative changes in every aspect of life to lessen the full impact of climate change. We know for a fact that climate change will bring continued sea level rise, and increased extreme weather events. In the highly developed system of river valleys, sandwiched between two major bodies of water, we call Westchester Country, we already experience high levels of flooding and are extremely vulnerable to the worsening conditions brought on by climate change.

In order to protect the health and safety of our residents we need to protect the health of our soils and natural lands. Soil provides about 17 trillion dollars of irreplaceable ecosystem services that humanity, and all life relies upon. Healthy soil removes toxins from water, provides nutrients to plants that remove carbon from the atmosphere; and mitigates flooding from stormwater run-off. We need to stop spewing toxins and GHGs into our atmosphere through incineration, and instead generate and use compost locally in every way we can.

At Sustainable Materials Management we understand the urgency in which we need to act, which is why we have taken it upon ourselves to bring local commercial food waste composting to Westchester. When open, our facility will have the capacity to accept and process 5,000 cubic yards of food scraps, and 25,000 cubic yards of tree debris. We need a more local food scrap compost facility than Kingston.

We chose to invest in a method of aerobic composting called forced aeration. Our research concluded that this kind of facility has the lowest GHG emissions, minimal investment costs and the quickest return on investment; and produces the highest quality soil amendment that can be used safely in any application.

If the County Government wants to encourage residential organics recycling, it must re-examine the framework of the Waste District’s IMA. We need a framework that incentivizes sustainable materials management practices, like organics recycling over incineration. Under the current framework it less expensive for participating Municipalities to send food scraps to the incinerator, rather than a compost facility. When in reality the disposal fees at compost facilities are lower than the disposal fees at Wheelabrator. There is no reason organics recycling should cost more than incineration.

The county also need to take steps to legislate the mandatory source separation of organics for all residents and businesses. The recent legislation passed by NY state falls short of this goal as it only applies to “large commercial generators” of 2 plus tons of food scraps per week; and it has a 25 mile exemption radius. Together this effectively excludes the majority of food scrap generators in this county, and does little to incentivize the growth of the organics recycling industry.  

It is with no exaggeration that I say: “The future of the human species hinges upon the actions we take today.”