EnvironmentThe Putnam Examiner

Putnam Communities Increase Efforts to Compost Food Waste

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By Michael Gold

Philipstown is composting 600 to 800 pounds of food waste each week, helping reduce greenhouse gas emissions, decreasing the town’s volume of garbage and providing soil with needed nutrients to grow more food.

Carmel has 200 households that have signed up to request the town begin composting. Kent has four dozen families that want to compost as well.

Greatly decreasing food waste was the topic of Sustainable Putnam’s seminar at the Mahopac Public Library on Sept. 23, promoting the benefits of composting and building support among Putnam County municipalities to embrace it. Sustainable Putnam is dedicated to developing “ecologically sound, socially equitable and economically responsible towns and villages,” explained Joseph Montuori, its executive director.

One of the more compelling reasons for towns to compost is that New York is running out of space to dump its garbage, Montuori said.

“Landfills in New York State are closing,” he pointed out. “A landfill in upstate New York is closing in 2025. As they close, garbage hauling costs will rise.”

The state’s largest landfill, Seneca Meadows, near Ithaca, is currently scheduled to close in 2025. The landfill’s owners are applying to extend its life until 2040. It covers about 350 acres and is almost 300 feet high.

In New York State, food makes up 18 percent of all waste, according to the Hunter College New York City Food Policy Center (https://www.nycfoodpolicy.org/food-waste-food-by-the-number).

“If it (food waste) goes to a landfill, it gets buried and will decompose without air. This will produce methane, one of the most potent greenhouse gases,” Montuori said.

However, composting turns food waste into nutrients to grow more food, explained panelist Jennifer Lerner, senior resource educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension in Putnam.

“The most common food waste is food that’s spoiled, like a chunk of lettuce, or trimmings of food, like corn cobs,” said Lerner.

“When you compost, your garbage becomes nothing,” said Karen Ertl, another panelist, who serves on the Philipstown Food Scrap Advisory Committee.

Philipstown is the first municipality in Putnam to compost. It began the program in May 2022, and has composted 17 tons of food scraps in 16 months, with 200 families participating, which is 5 percent of the households in the town, Ertl reported. The Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival, based in Garrison, is now composting in Philipstown, she said.

“Seventy percent of U.S. waste is comprised of organic materials that can be composted,” said Lerner. “Composting is a big part of carbon sequestration.”

For residents without access to commercial composting, Lerner recommended composting in one’s backyard, using important guidelines such as avoiding composting meat or bones because animals will want to eat them. Also, steer clear of high fat foods in composting on your property. Cakes and doughnuts should not be included in the compost mix, she said.

Montuori presented an inverted food waste pyramid, which emphasized how to deal with food waste. The best strategy is source reduction, to cut the volume of surplus food generated by farms, supermarkets and consumers. Second is feeding hungry people with excess food generated. Third is providing leftovers to animals, or employing it for industrial uses. Fats and meat can be turned into animal food, cosmetics and soap, among other products. Cooking oils can be used for biodiesel fuel for cars and trucks.

Fourth on the pyramid is composting. The lowest step on the pyramid is incineration or landfill, the least desired options, because they generate greenhouse gases.

To help feed Putnam residents who need a meal, panelist Martha Elder, executive director of Second Chance Foods, a food rescue organization, explained how her group reduces food waste.

“We collect food before it turns to waste,” Elder said. “We collect food for Trader Joe’s, Ace Endico and DeCicco’s,” among other organizations, she pointed out.

Second Chance works with grocery stores, restaurant suppliers, home delivery services and local farms to save food that might otherwise go to waste. Second Chance cooks and donates meals to hunger relief organizations, food pantries and food insecure residents.

An attendee in the 40-person audience asked, “Is there really food insecurity in Putnam?”

Elder responded, “Hunger is a real issue in our communities. The need is very, very great.”


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