Food Waste Recovery is Blossoming this Spring in New York City

When we think about major contributors to pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, we don’t necessarily think about the food that we throw away every day, even though it has an impact on climate change and resource use. According to the EPA, 33 million tons of food waste sent to landfills in the U.S. every year . As food waste decomposes, it releases large amounts of methane, which has 22-25 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide. If all food waste nation-wide that is currently landfilled was composted, greenhouse gas emissions would be reduced by 31 million metric tons of CO2e—the same as taking 6 million passenger cars off the road. In New York City alone, the accommodation, foodservice, and retail sectors discard ~1,100 tons of food waste every day. A government study on residential waste from 2004-2005 found that food scraps accounted for ~20% of all residential garbage in the city. Not only does diversion of food waste decrease greenhouse gas emissions, but this waste can also be a valuable resource in the agricultural industry and has the potential to be used as a source of energy.

Given the benefits of food waste recovery, it is very exciting to see the emergence of several government and private company efforts in New York City to divert more organic material from landfills. Below are some highlights of food waste recovery initiatives that launched this spring in New York City:

• On March 21st, Manhattan Borough President, Scott Stringer, the Citizens Committee for New York City, and the Manhattan Solid Waste Advisory Board (of which Global Green’s NY Director is a member) announced the winners of a grant program for community composting proposals in Manhattan. Each of the 23 grants offered provides up to $750 to small community organizations—such as schools, neighborhood associations and community gardens—that are working to implement food recovery and composting systems. The winning projects include the creation of a solar and food powered tea brewer, the use of compost fertilizer on the rooftop garden of a homeless shelter, and networking systems that allow people to find composting locations throughout the city. Below, Scott Stringer announces the winners of the grants at PS 11 in Chelsea, along with PTA Garden Coordinator, Lauren Gill. To view the press release, please visit: http://www.mbpo.org/blog_details.asp?id=477&page=1

• On March 4th, New York City Council Speaker, Christine Quinn, announced a 4-month composting pilot program in partnership with GrowNYC and Action Carting Services (a member of CoRR) that will allow residents to drop off fruit, vegetable and grain food waste at six additional Greenmarkets in New York City (programs were already in place at four markets, bringing the total to ten). The food waste brought to these sites will be taken to a composting facility where it will be converted into material for use in local gardens and agriculture.

• Pret A Manger, a quick service restaurant company, specializing in sandwiches and wraps, with 27 locations in Manhattan, launched a composting pilot in six of its New York City stores this spring. The stores will be working with Action Carting, who will be collecting the food scraps and transporting it to Peninsula Compost in Delaware where it will be processed into compost. Below is a picture of the back of house training poster for Pret A Manger employees.

BLOG - Pret Compost BOH Sign

Ideally, New York City would have a local organics recovery facility to eliminate the transportation distance to neighboring states, thereby reducing environmental footprint and potentially the cost of organics recovery. To this end, Global Green’s Coalition for Resource Recovery has commenced the development of a conceptual plan to accelerate the development of a local, reliable, environmentally-sound, and economical commercial food waste recovery infrastructure that will provide energy and nutrient-rich soil to New York City. For more information on this initiative, please visit: http://thecorr.org/programs_food_waste.php

These pilots and initiatives demonstrate the change underway in how we think about and handle food waste. The hope is that these initiatives will serve as a catalyst for both grass roots and larger scale, city-wide organic recovery programs for residential and commercial waste streams, which would be a huge step towards New York City becoming a more efficient and environmentally sustainable city. This blog was co-authored by Jessica Harris and Annie White.