Riverhead Town is conducting a pilot food scrap collection program, with the goals of providing material for composting to local farms and reducing greenhouse gas emissions to mitigate climate change.
The pilot program began in the beginning of August as a collaborative effort between the town’s Environmental Advisory Committee, engineering department and the Greater Calverton Civic Association. The engineering department collects the food scraps, or “greens” from nine homes in Calverton, the Riverhead Senior Center, Bean & Bagel and LuchaCubano, according to Principal Engineering Aide Jason Blizzard. The greens are then dropped off at the Long island Horticultural Research and Extension Center and the Roanoke Lavender Farm to be composted. Collection of scraps from the pilot program will end right before Thanksgiving, after almost three months.
From the beginning of August to the beginning of November, the pilot program collected 1.65 tons of food scraps for composting, keeping roughly 3.2 tons of methane out of landfills, according to Mark Haubner, the co-chair of the town’s Environmental Advisory Committee. The idea for the pilot came from a similar pilot project Haubner helped coordinate in Southold Town; although that program has not expanded past its pilot.
The long term vision for the program is much larger, and could even expand to collecting food scraps from every property in town, if Haubner and other members of the committee get their way. The town produced approximately 5,264 tons of food scraps in 2019 — representing 13.8% of the total solid waste produced by the town — according to the town’s Solid Waste Management Plan adopted this past April to chart the course of the town’s waste management efforts from 2020-29.
Haubner said expanding the program that large can allow the town to run a business to supply compost material, or soil already composted, to local farms. The waste needed to compost with greens are “browns,” a category that includes yard waste and leaves, which could be obtained through the town’s yard waste disposal facility. The town’s highway department already operates a composting facility on Youngs Avenue using vegetative storm debris and construction debris to provide free soil to residents.
“We want to put all of our food scraps together with all of our yard scraps to make compost, and there’s going to be a lot of it,” Haubner said. “And what we’re hoping is that it’s going to be a saleable product for the Town of Riverhead.”
Decomposition of landfill waste causes a release of gas made up primarily of methane and carbon dioxide, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Both greenhouse gasses — but especially the extremely potent Methane — trap heat in the atmosphere, making them the largest contributors to global warming. A 2021 report from the United Nations Environment Programme showed that a reduction in human-caused methane emissions can slow global warming levels and help meet goals of the international Paris Climate Agreement.
“If it goes to landfill, it turns into methane,” Haubner said. “But it restores our soils when we compost it. So it’s a perfect thing for a farming community.”
The program would also be another notch in Riverhead’s belt when it comes to aiding New York State in meeting one of its climate goals: to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 85 percent from 1990 levels by 2050. Federal agencies have set a goal of a 50% reduction in food waste by 2030.
The Environmental Advisory Committee wants to reach even higher and believes it’s possible the town can divert 100% of its food scrap waste from landfills by 2030, in line with the goals expressed in the Solid Waste Management Plan, which sets the ambitious goal of diverting 98% of food scraps away from landfills by 2029.
The solid waste management plan calls for the town to start inquiring into a food scraps recycling program at the beginning 2025 and have a program implemented by the end of 2026. The plan also calls for the town to encourage and inform residents on how to engage in composting at home to reduce waste. A broad expansion of the food scrap pilot program throughout the few years could put the town years ahead of achieving its goals.
Haubner said the town committee is looking to collaborate with nonprofit organizations to fund and bring added expertise to the project, such as the Long Island Organics Council.
Huabner said another hurdle to overcome would be to get the community on board with the program and participating. He said this will come through education on the benefits of the program.
“All of the nutrients and the water that’s in food scraps goes directly back into compost, which goes back to our soils which improves our food when we grow it,” he said. “It’ll improve our landscaping for our own houses and it also reduces the flow of water into the stormwater system.”
Haubner has touted the pilot program as a success. Blizzard said the town is planning to use what it’s learned throughout the pilot to hopefully start an expanded program in the spring of next year.
Wayne Lindsay, the farm and greenhouse supervisor for the Long Island Horticultural Research and Extension Center, said the center volunteered to be a drop off point and compost the scraps to help get the program up and running.
Lindsay said the soil made from the compost will be used for the volunteer community vegetable garden on the campus.
“It’s good for the environment and we believe in being good stewards of the earth. So that’s the reason why we got into it,” said Kelly Maris, co-owner of Roanoke Lavender Farm, the other farms which received the compost material.
The Environmental Advisory Committee also has a meeting scheduled with the Long Island Farm Bureau. Council Member Frank Beyrodt, the liaison to the Environmental Advisory Committee and a past president of the farm bureau, said there are more farms in the area interested in the program.
When asked if he sees the program going town-wide, Beyrodt said “if it’s something that’s right for the farm community and right for the town, then that will build its own momentum and it’ll take off to whatever level that [the committee] hopes for it.”
The pilot program is currently operating as an extra task in the routine business operations of the engineering department, and would need funding if it were to expand to more businesses and homes across the town.
“I guess the real trick is to find a way to get it done with minimal funding and let it take off on its own,” Beyrodt said when asked if he thought the board would support funding for the program’s expansion. “Certainly, the budget is very, very stretched thin — and it always is — but I think as far as part of the plan that the engineering department has taken on with the state, that it will be something that we will probably eventually have to throw some resources at, take off on its own and have some kind of mutual benefit for all those involved.”
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