"Nationwide, food waste accounts for an estimated 12.5 percent of Municipal Solid Waste (MSW). At a time when many recycling programs have hit a plateau, food waste is commonly the next segment of MSW to be tapped for diversion. Collecting food waste is often more challenging than collecting typical recyclable materials. Some of the hurdles to collecting food waste from both residential and Commercial, Industrial, and Institutional (CII) generators include space considerations, the costs of collection containers and vehicles, and the distance to the composting/processing facility." [1]


"I was tutoring a student recently in world history when it hit me--over 4,500 years ago, the Harappan Civilization in the Indus River Valley Region (one of the world's earliest urban civilizations) created advanced systems in sewerage and draining, handling solid waste and wastewater in ways that placed high value on hygiene. Civilizations have never ceased to prioritize nor make advancements in the management of organic materials." [2]


THE PROBLEM(s)

LANDFILLS and CLIMATE CRISIS


Throwing food waste into landfills creates greenhouse gases, which significantly contribute to global warming. The devastating effects of Hurricane Irene and Superstorm Sandy are acute, local reminders of the urgent need to make changes to our current waste management practices. Responding to this urgency, three neighboring states – VT, MA, and CT - have passed laws, or are in the process of passing laws, banning organic materials from disposal to landfills. Laws banning the disposal of organic waste expedite and incentivize widespread composting, but municipalities across the country are experiencing the benefits of increased recycling and composting prior to state and federal mandates.

There are no remaining active landfills in Rensselaer County, and only two in Albany County. According to calculations based on 2010 tonnage, there are fewer than 20 years remaining in the lifespan of the Colonie landfill [3], the primary recipient of Troy’s solid waste. Albany is expanding its landfill into protected habitat for a temporary fix. The City of Albany’s Draft Solid Waste Management Plan includes provisions for organic waste management for the region [4]. In 2008, New Yorkers sent 4.1 pounds of municipal solid waste (MSW) to disposal facilities per person per day, or 0.75 tons per person per year. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) seeks a progressive reduction in the amount of MSW destined for disposal to reach the ultimate goal of disposal to 0.6 pounds per person per day by 2030 [5]. Governor Andrew Cuomo's Cleaner, Greener Communities Program has established the following goal in the Draft Capital Region Sustainability Plan: to reduce Green House Gas (GHG) Emissions 80% below 1990 levels by 2050 [6]. Such goals will not be achieved without municipal plans for better management of organic materials, a primary source of GHG emissions from landfills. While there are attempts to capture methane from landfills for energy usage, these attempts are often highly problematic [7]. There are essentially two ways that food scrap recycling reduces GHGs: 1) by removing organics from the landfill, thereby reducing methane production; and 2) through the use of compost made from food scraps. Food scraps emit more methane than any other material in the landfill. Keeping food scraps out of the landfill reduces the amount of methane produced. Methane is 72 times more potent a GHG than Carbon Dioxide (CO2) in the first 20 years, and 23 times more potent over 100 years [8].

COST


The City of Troy incurs the cost of transporting and tipping (disposing) the solid waste products from residents, 1500 businesses, and government offices. Troy disposes of 23-25 thousand tons of solid waste in landfills each year, averaging an approximate $1.5 million cost to taxpayers annually. That $1.5 million is in tipping fees alone, and does not include all overhead costs of Troy's solid waste program. DPW's current budget for Solid Waste Management is $3.3 million [9][10].

Recyclable materials go to the County Waste transfer station in South Troy, operated by Waste Connections, where they are then delivered to the Port of Albany facility for sorting, bundling, and resale. Recycled materials generate no cost nor revenue to the City of Troy, but for every ton that residents and businesses (1,500 who are not on private contracts) recycle, taxpayers save $60 in tipping fees.

Using data from the NYSDEC's 2010 Beyond Waste report, the Citizens Working Group on Composting (CWG-C) has determined that for every 1% increase in the city's recycling rate, the City will save at least $15,000 in tipping fees (see Table 1.1).

MISSED OPPORTUNITIES


Without significant increases in recycling and composting, the City of Troy is missing opportunities for financial savings, creating jobs, revenue streams, and ecologically-sound practices. The role of city government includes the management of natural resources to sustain a community's well-being, from clean air and clean water to healthy soil and healthy people, from renewable energy and recycling to composting and conservation. Underlying these core principles is a very practical concept: integrated solutions. "Integrated Solutions" essentially means that there is more than a single solution from an investment in organics recycling. For example, diverting food waste from the landfill could provide multiple solutions, including reduced landfill methane emissions, generation of renewable energy via anaerobic digestion, production of high value compost via composting, and the creation of multiple jobs. In turn, the compost could be used to grow healthy food, address challenges with storm water management, revitalize depleted soils, and replace fossil-fuel fertilizers [11].

THE POTENTIAL BENEFITS OF COMPOSTING IN TROY INCLUDE:

  • Reducing the amount of solid waste disposed thereby decreasing GHG emissions (helping meet established goals) relative to current landfilling practices
  • Decreasing tipping fees of solid waste
  • Producing soil amendment for landscaping and nutrient-rich fertilizer for food production (replacing fossil-fuel fertilizers)
  • Managing storm water by applying a compost blanket (significantly helps keep rainwater where it falls thus reducing pollutant load and sewer overflows)
  • Preventing soil erosion
  • Providing an end-product source of income
  • Generating heat
  • Possibly generating energy to be used and sold back onto the system grid

Table 1.1: The City of Troy's MSW Stream: Content, Diversion, and Cost [12] [13] [14].

Recyclable
Compostable
Other (Landfill/ Combustion)
Content of Average NYS Waste Stream
55%
27%
18%
NYS Average Diversion Rate
24% (includes yard waste)
N/A
76%
Troy Quantity Diverted (tons per year)
1,200-1,350 (does not include bulk metals or hazardous waste)
75-125 (yard waste)
N/A
Troy Recovery Rate
6.3% of normal household waste, 15-20% of overall waste
.4% (yard waste)
93%
Estimated total quantity in waste stream (tons per year)
10,455
5,133
3,421
Total not currently diverted (tons per year)
9,255
5,057
N/A
Potential Savings through greater collection/diversion (estimated from $60/ton) *tipping fees only
$555,321
$303,457
N/A




RECOMMENDATIONS

With one of the lowest recycling rates in the state[15], Troy can go far in reducing our disposal to landfills and decreasing expenditures by aggressively increasing its participation in recycling-- a system with current infrastructure and protocols. In addition to increasing the recycling of non-organic solid waste, the CWG-C recommends the implementation of municipal composting of food scraps and yard waste in both a centralized and decentralized system. This could be done through staged implementation and the participation of many city departments and partners. The CWG-C has identified seven areas of recommendation for the City of Troy:
  • Amendments to City Code
  • Education and Enforcement
  • Recycling Coordination
  • Building a Facility or Partnering with Farms
  • Neighborhood Scale Composting
  • Funding Opportunities
  • Citywide Collection

TIMELINE of IMPLEMENTATION


The general strategy is to increase participation in the current system (single-stream recycling) as a way to increase landfill diversion and decrease tipping fees paid by the city through taxpayer dollars, then to phase-in the implementation of composting systems and practices in logical, affordable ways.

Stage 1: up to one year:
  • Update information on the City of Troy website to better reflect current practices and to inform and educate residents about composting opportunities.
  • Provide resources for backyard composting, such as guidelines and compost bins.
  • Create and launch a public education campaign on recycling and composting engaging partnerships with neighborhood groups, artists, and activists.
  • Itemize solid waste disposal costs on tax bills thereby making the amount visible and known to residents.
  • Enforce recycling and trash disposal laws at curbside collection by issuing warnings and fines where there is evidence of violation.
  • Improve public source separation through visible, public recycling bins
  • Provide recycling in all city and state government buildings, encouraging the City to lead by example.
  • Amend city code to reflect current single-stream recycling and composting.
  • Hire a Recycling and Composting Coordinator to oversee and expand education, enforcement, and materials recycled and reused; paid for by DEC match and savings from decreased tipping expenses.
  • Transfer specific, city-owned, vacant lots to neighborhood organizations for neighborhood-scale compost piles.
  • Promote local agriculture programs and businesses running organics collection and composting projects. Encourage organics drop-off at the Troy Waterfront Farmers Market and participating Capital District Community Gardens' sites by providing information on the City of Troy website.

Stage 2: up to three years:
  • Adopt a Pay-as-You-Throw System (PAYT) for Solid Waste (thereby eliminating the annual, flat fee for recycling) with bin and/or bag standardization.
  • Expand and multiply pilot, small-scale composting sites and projects to help residents continue to lower their PAYT fees.
  • Implement a pilot curbside pickup program for separated organic waste.
  • Contract with local farms, facilities, and businesses that are currently composting to introduce food waste from Troy to their feedstocks. Partner with said farms, facilities, and businesses to expand capacity.
  • Publicize a pilot program, to be launched in Spring 2013, in the dining halls at RPI, and encourage expansion to other institutions. Use the data for capacity projections for a municipal facility.
  • Research markets for sale of finished compost and biogas.
  • Write and disseminate an RFP for professional design services for building an organic materials processing facility.

Stage 3 up to five years:
  • Pursue funding opportunities to defray implementation costs of a new program and facility. Federal, state, and private grants and loans are available.
  • Apply savings from decreased landfill tipping expenses towards building infrastructure for recycling organics.
  • Build a facility within or near Troy for end-use processing of commercial and institutional-scale organic material.

CONCLUSION


Just a few years ago, diverting food waste from landfills was perceived as a program that only the most progressive cities and counties could embrace. This attitude is changing, and diverting food waste for composting is becoming a mainstream practice. Cities, counties and even states from California to Connecticut are implementing a wide variety of programs to increase the diversion of food waste. With nearly 25 percent of the total U.S. waste stream made up of organics, finding ways for Troy to recover these materials before they are forever buried in a landfill could help save money, meet measurable environmental goals established in the New York State Solid Waste Management Plan, Climate Smart Communities Pledge, and Capital Region Sustainability Plan, and create a cradle-to-grave system for organics that replenishes nutrients back into the soil and possibly generates renewable energy. Since Troy has recycling and yard waste protocols already in place, it could begin diverting organic material from the landfill by creating food waste composting programs [16].


[1] "Food Waste Composting Pilot Project," Ulster County Resource Recovery Agency, accessed January 12, 2013, http://www.ucrra.org/rra-boardmem/info/UCRRA%20Composting%20Business%20Plan.pdf
[2] Abby Lublin, personal communication, December 15, 2012.
[3] "2010 Solid Waste Capacity Chart," New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, accessed January 12, 2013, http://www.dec.ny.gov/chemical/47984.html.
[4] “Solid Waste Management Plan,” Capital Region Solid Waste Management Partnership, last modified August 1, 2011, http://www.capitalregionlandfill.com/management/
[5] “Beyond Waste: A Sustainable Materials Management Strategy for New York State,” New York Department of Environmental Conservation, las modified December 27, 2010,
http://www.dec.ny.gov/docs/materials_minerals_pdf/frptbeyondwaste.pdf.
[6] “Capital Region Sustainability Plan: Draft Plan Available for Review,” Cleaner Greener Communities Capital Region Consortium, last modified December 8, 2012, http://sustainablecapitalregion.org/full-report
[7] Bill Chamberlain (Solid Waste Coordinator) in discussion with Abby Lublin and Anasha Cummings, November 2012.
[8]“Capital Region Sustainability Plan: Draft Plan Available for Review,” Cleaner Greener Communities Capital Region Consortium, last modified December 8, 2012, http://sustainablecapitalregion.org/full-report
[9] “City of Troy Proposed 2013 Annual Budget,” Troy City Council, last modified October 1, 2012, http://www.troyny.gov/Libraries/Budget/prop_2013budget.sflb.ashx.
[10] Bill Chamberlain (Solid Waste Coordinator) in discussion with Abby Lublin and Anasha Cummings, November 2012.
[11] Miriam Zimms and David Ver Eecke, “Developments in North Carolina, South Carolina and Florida are captured in this roundup of commercial food waste diversion to composting,” BioCycle 53, no. 10 (2012): 20.
[12]“Beyond Waste: A Sustainable Materials Management Strategy for New York State,” New York Department of Environmental Conservation, las modified December 27, 2010,
http://www.dec.ny.gov/docs/materials_minerals_pdf/frptbeyondwaste.pdf.
[13]Gerard J. Wagner (Division of Materials Management, NYS-DEC) email to Abby Lublin based on 2010 Annual Reports, January 2012.
[14] New York. State Department of Environmental Conservation, Division of Materials Management. Annual Report Form – Planning Unit Recycling Report: 2010, City of Troy. Troy, 2010.
[15] “Beyond Waste: A Sustainable Materials Management Strategy for New York State,” New York Department of Environmental Conservation, las modified December 27, 2010,
http://www.dec.ny.gov/docs/materials_minerals_pdf/frptbeyondwaste.pdf, Appendix C.
[16] "Food Waste Composting Pilot Project," Ulster County Resource Recovery Agency, accessed January 12, 2013, http://www.ucrra.org/rra-boardmem/info/UCRRA%20Composting%20Business%20Plan.pdf