Beth Fiteni, co-director of the Long Island Organics Council, adds food scraps to one of the recycling containers at the town’s waste facility on Youngs Avenue as her co-director, Judy Greco, and Greater Calverton Civic Associaion President Toqui Terchun look on. Photo: Alek Lewis

The Town of Riverhead celebrated the launch of its new residential food scrap recycling to compost program yesterday at the Youngs Avenue waste disposal site, another step in Riverhead’s ambitious goal to divert almost all the town’s food scrap waste from landfills by 2030.

The program, the first of its kind on Long Island, was created in partnership with two nonprofit organizations that promote the reduction of food waste, the Long Island Organics Council and Green Inside and Out, which obtained a $20,000 grant from the New York State Pollution Prevention Institute to create the program. The grant was used to buy the bins to store the scraps for the town, signage and to compensate the employees of the nonprofits implementing the program. 

MORE COVERAGE: Riverhead looks to launch expanded food scraps recycling program

The town accepts only select types of food scraps — roughly less than half of the total food scraps produced by the town, Town Engineer Drew Dillingham said. More details on what the town accepts and does not accept can be found on its website. Dillingham said the town hopes to expand its program in years to come to include meats and other food items not found on the current list of food scraps. Residents can register for the program on the town’s website

“We are very proud of Riverhead for leading the way on this waste reduction initiative in the Long Island region, where they have already conducted several other pilots on composting in the past,” said Judy Greco, the co-director of the Long Island Organics Council. 

About 30% of residential waste is food scraps that can be potentially converted into compost, Greco said. “Right now, most of Long Island’s waste is being incinerated and trucked out of the state contributing unnecessarily to greenhouse gasses, which happens when food breaks down and causes methane, a potent greenhouse gas,” she said.

“That’s why it just makes more sense to use the nutrients and food scraps we already have here instead of turning them into waste,” Greco said.

Riverhead’s solid waste management plan set the ambitious goal of diverting 98% of its food scrap waste — which was roughly 14% of the total solid waste produced by the town in 2019 — from landfills by 2029. The town is ahead of schedule when it comes to the plan’s timeline, which called for the town to inquire about a food scrap recycling program in 2025 and have a program up and running by the end of 2026.

“This program is going to be a fantastic piece of recycling in the Town of Riverhead,” said Council Member Tim Hubbard, who does his own composting at home.

Officials said Riverhead’s program was based on those created upstate by other municipalities, including the towns of Greenburgh and Scarsdale. Dillingham expects around 20% of families in Riverhead to participate in the program once completely implemented — a number based on the amount of families that participate in Greenburgh and Scarsdale.

Areas of New York City also have similar residential programs. Beth Fiteni, co-director of the Long Island Organics Council, said she hopes that Riverhead’s program will become a model for other municipalities across Long Island. 

Currently, the town only accepts food scraps at a drop-off site at the Youngs Avenue facility, which is located immediately on your left as you enter the property and is open from Thursday to Monday from 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Dillingham said the town hopes to open drop off sites throughout the town as the program evolves, as well as scale the program to take food waste from businesses.

“Initially, we’re going to give it away to residents, and when we start making enough and it’s good quality, we’re gonna sell it,” Dillingham said of the compost created with the scraps.

Residents can also purchase from the town plastic buckets to hold their food scraps. The town is selling them at-cost: $10 for a two gallon countertop bucket and a roll of biodegradable bags; and $25 for a seven gallon bucket, a two gallon bucket and a roll of biodegradable bags. Residents can email compost@townofriverheadny.gov for more information on how to purchase the buckets. 

The program was born from a smaller pilot created by the town in partnership with the Greater Calverton Civic Association and the town’s Environmental Advisory Committee, who officials said were also involved in creating the current programs. Last year, the groups collected scraps from nine homes in Calverton, the Riverhead Senior Center, Bean & Bagel and LuchaCubano, which were dropped off and composted at the Long island Horticultural Research and Extension Center and the Roanoke Lavender Farm.

READ MORE: Turning food scraps into fertilizer: Riverhead launches pilot program in partnership with residents and businesses

Mark Haubner, the co-chair of Riverhead’s Environmental Advisory Committee, said he has talked to officials in Southampton, Shelter Island and East Hampton who are going ahead with their own residential food scrap recycling programs. 

The grant funding the program is funded by the Department of Environmental Conservation’s Environmental Protection Fund. Haubner, who was unable to make yesterday’s ceremony, said he was thankful to the DEC for starting the Climate Smart Communities program, which encourages governments across the state to act to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and inspired the creation of the food scrap recycling program.

Suffolk County Legislator Al Krupski said waste is a big problem in every community and that the program will help keep trucks, which would otherwise transport waste to landfills off of Long Island, off the roads. “This is this is a really sustainable program, and congratulations to everyone here. To the Town of Riverhead, thank you.”

Photo: Alek Lewis

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Alek Lewis is a lifelong Riverhead resident and a 2021 graduate of Stony Brook University’s School of Communication and Journalism. Previously, he served as news editor of Stony Brook’s student newspaper, The Statesman, and was a member of the campus’s chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Email: alek@riverheadlocal.com