On The Street

The Case for Composting Food Scraps Grows in P’ville, New Castle

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By Michael Gold

Pleasantville’s and New Castle’s composting efforts are bearing fruit.

Pleasantville’s compost levels rose from 41.1 tons in 2021 to 41.9 tons in 2022, reported village Trustee Nicole Asquith.

“New Castle collected 50 tons of food scraps in 2021 and 45 tons in 2022,” Jennifer Mebes Flagg, co-chair of the New Castle Sustainability Advisory Board, wrote in an e-mail, and is working to “exceed our pre-pandemic level of 65 tons in the near future.”

The health of the soil that we need to grow our food “is a pressing issue,” Asquith said.

“The amount of fertile soil on our planet is rapidly diminishing. For our food security, we need to think about how we take care of our soil.”

“Soil is a dynamic, living organism and the very foundation of sustainable horticulture and agriculture,” states the website of the New York Botanical Garden, where Asquith took a course on soil science.

Asquith educated me on the need for more people to compost.

“Compost is like the magic sauce for good soil, for soil health,” she said.

There is no additional cost to Pleasantville by composting, and residents appreciate that the amount of their trash is reduced with composting and recycling, Asquith said.

“We’re paying the same amount to truck waste to the incinerator as sending compost to Ulster County,” which is where the village’s compost goes. “It’s a relatively easy program to adopt,” Asquith explained.

Composting is beneficial because “you are preserving the nutrients in the food and allowing the nutrients to go back into the soil,” she continued. “Compost can better sequester carbon when it’s added to the soil. Compost helps the soil hold water better. It helps with runoff issues. Soil that retains water is better for growing.”

Asquith, who had lived in Brooklyn before moving to Pleasantville in 2015, was composting in her backyard, but realized that if the village created a compost program, it would be better because you could compost more materials, such as bones, meat and dairy products. Composting these materials in your backyard can attract rodents and other unwanted pests.

Pleasantville and New Castle’s composting programs sell two-gallon countertop containers to place food scraps into a compostable bag, six-gallon storage units for floor placement, where you deposit the bags, and rolls of compostable bags. Residents then bring the storage units containing the bags of compost to their respective municipal drop-off sites at times designated by the towns. (Visit their respective websites for details.)

When food waste is buried, it produces methane, which has a much greater impact than other carbon dioxide emissions, Asquith explained.

“Methane pollution causes 25 percent of today’s global warming,” states the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) on its web site. Methane is 84 percent more potent than carbon dioxide in the near term, the EDF explains.

“A third of all food produced globally is either lost (such as due to spoiled crops) or wasted,” Flagg stated in her e-mail, “generating vast quantities of methane and carbon dioxide, along with driving up solid-waste management costs. In the United States, the average household throws out 436 pounds of food each year. New Castle’s food scrap recycling program has successfully diverted almost 200 tons of food scraps from the solid waste stream while creating healthy, rich compost for use by gardeners, farmers, and landscapers.”

“By composting food scraps, New Castle has prevented over 210 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions from being released into the atmosphere, mitigating their effect on climate change. The elimination of these moisture-laden materials from the incineration process also provides for more efficient combustion, reducing natural gas consumption at the Wheelabrator Westchester facility,” stated Kent Thomas, also a New Castle Sustainability Advisory Board member.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) website explains, “USDA is fighting food waste and you can too. Composting is nature’s way of recycling! Here are a few reasons to get started today: Feed the soil without using chemical fertilizers, keep food waste out of the landfills and prevent greenhouse gas emissions, and conserve water by building healthy soils.”

In 2019, the USDA, Environmental Protection Agency and the Food and Drug Administration enacted an agreement with the Food Waste Reduction Alliance (FWRA), consisting of grocery manufacturers, food industry producers and restaurant operators. The FWRA is working to reduce the amount of food waste, increase donations of safe and nutritious foods to the needy and divert food waste from landfills.

“New Castle is currently exploring a voluntary curbside food collection program, which we hope to offer to residents starting this year for a small monthly fee,” Flagg wrote. “Many New Castle residents are aware that food waste contributes to the climate crisis and have expressed an interest in participating in a program that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions and benefit the environment.”

Pleasantville-based writer Michael Gold has had articles published in the New York Daily News, the Albany Times Union, The Virginian-Pilot, The Palm Beach Post and other newspapers, and The Hardy Society Journal, a British literary journal.

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