Pilot composting pile at the Bethlehem Highway Department. Photo courtesy Town of Bethlehem
BETHLEHEM — The state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has awarded the town $238,615 to expand and improve its food-scraps composting operation.
“New York State is making significant investments in the capability to donate food and municipal organics recycling infrastructure across the state,” said DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos, “facilitating increased food donation to food banks, and providing funds for larger generators of food scraps to divert material from landfills.”
The funding is part of $3.5 million allotted statewide through the Environmental Protection Fund’s Municipal Recycling and Climate Smart Communities grant programs.
While the Town of Bethlehem has been composting yard waste for more than 15 years at its composting facility on Feura Bush Road in Selkirk, it only began looking at composting food scraps last year when it launched a pilot program at the town highway garage on Elm Avenue in Selkirk. The 2017 pilot, reported Bethlehem Recycling Coordinator Dan Lilkas-Rain, was a success, and now the town has received the funds to implement an expanded food scraps composting program at its Feura Bush Road facility.
The money will enable the town to purchase a compost screener and aeration equipment, pave a portion of the compost facility, install electrical wiring and expand a dedicated portion of the facility for the operation of the aerated static pile (ASP) food-scraps composting project.
The ASP composting method used is one in which airflow is induced into the pile of yard waste mixed with food scraps (in an approximately 3:1 ratio) through the use of electric blowers and pipes at the base of the pile. The air not only helps to establish and maintain aerobic conditions throughout the pile; expedite the process; mitigate impacts from odors, vectors and runoff; but also reduce operating costs..
The first test pile was constructed in mid-May 2017, and the second pile in late June. Conditions and temperatures were monitored throughout the first 30-days of composting, and the frequency and duration of aeration was adjusted to manage the composting process. After approximately 30 days of aerated composting, certified test results indicated that composting was complete and that the finished product met all of the desired parameters for a high quality / high value compost product. The finished compost was also judged to be high quality by DEC staff, as well as O2Compost, the design and consulting firm employed by the town.
DEC estimates that 40 percent of food in the United States goes uneaten — more than 20 pounds of food per person each month. In late 2017, DEC awarded $800,000 to the Food Bank Association of New York State to help increase food donation. In addition, grants totaling $1.2 million were awarded to municipalities in 2017 and January of 2018 to support food donation and food waste recycling.
According to DEC, New York supermarkets, restaurants, colleges, hospitals, and other large food scrap producers generate more than 210,000 tons of wasted food and food scraps each year, much of which is edible. If these food scraps were diverted from landfills, New York could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by more than 120,000 metric tons — the equivalent of taking 37,000 cars off the road each year.
“I can tell you that if Bethlehem’s residents diverted their food scraps from the landfill it would amount to several thousand tons per year,” said Lilkas-Rain.
New York’s large food scraps producers also stand to gain from diverting wasted food from landfills. A 2017 NYSERDA report found that collectively these institutions could reduce costs by up to $12 million per year by recovering and recycling food waste.
The NYSERDA report estimates the current cost associated with hauling, tipping (dumping), greenhouse gases and the damages from disposing of food wastes from large producers is approximately $41 million annually. If the use of food waste recycling facilities is expanded throughout the state, it could reduce those costs by $15 million to $22 million a year. According to the report, large food waste generators could save $3 million on hauling and between $5.3 and $9.9 million on tipping costs, for a total of up to $12.9 million in savings.
For Bethlehem residents interested in composting their food scraps, Lilkas-Rain said there are a number of ways they can do so. The town Recycling Department offers educational resources for residents who are interested in doing their own composting in their backyards and has added a backyard compost unit “truckload sale” event to the Spring Recycle Fest planned for Saturday, April 14. Units, said Lilkas-Rain typically cost around $100, but community members who pre-order by Sunday, April 1 (at http://townofbethlehem.org/compost), can buy one for half that cost and pick it up during the Elm Avenue Park event on April 14.
“We’re actually requiring that they attend a brief demo at the Spring Recycle Fest,” said Lilkas-Rain, “to make sure that they know how to use the composter and that they have their questions answered. It’s something that, with a little practice, is easy to do, but when people first start, it can be a little tricky to get the right mix of the greens and the browns.”
Another option currently available to residents, he said, is to have food scraps and compostable paper and cardboard collected curbside through a service provided by FoodScraps360. (The nearest municipality, he added, to offer large-scale food scraps composting is in Kingston. “So they’re anxious to be able to bring them to Bethlehem’s facility when we’re scaled up and able to handle that,” he said of the hauling service.)
The town is considering placement of community drop spots where residents could drop off compostable food scraps, which would then be hauled by a private hauler for composting at the Feura Bush Road facility. To offer feedback or learn more, residents can visit the town’s recycling page at http://www.townofbethlehem.org/143/Recycling, and take a survey or link to various resources.
“It is well documented that there is an unnecessary amount of food waste generated overall and these grants are a great way for New York to step up and address that issue while also benefiting the greater good,” said Assemblyman Steve Englebright, chair of the Assembly Committee on Environmental Conservation. “We need to constantly be thinking of ways to mitigate climate change and reduce harmful emissions from a multi-pronged approach, and this is one example of that. By diverting wholesome food from the landfills, we are reducing greenhouse gas emissions and benefiting the environment, while at the same time ensuring that food finds its way to those in need.”
Anyone interested in purchasing composted material from the town can visit http://www.townofbethlehem.org/125/Compost-Facility to view products and pricing (town-produced compost is always free to town residents).