Orangetown is taking the next step in recycling and hopes its residents, and the rest of Rockland County, follow.
The town launched a pilot program collecting food waste, the largest component in the municipal waste stream. An estimated 920 pounds of food scraps were collected last month for the program at the town’s Highway Department facility.
Orangetown is working with the Rockland Green waste management agency on the initiative, which advocates say will help the environment by reducing waste and greenhouse gases, while also saving money.
The program, which was inspired by a similar effort in Westchester, comes as a state law went into effect this year encouraging the recycling of food waste.
Supervisors from other Rockland towns envision growing the program to the rest of the county in the future, with the possibility of someday adding regular residential collections.
But officials say they need residents to buy into the pilot program. While the town and Rockland Green will provide the disposable, biodegradable bags required in the process for free, it will be the residents’ responsibility to separate the food waste from their other garbage and recyclables, and drive the bagged waste to the Highway Department facility off Route 303 in Orangeburg.
“People have to understand the benefits of recycling food scraps,” Orangetown Supervisor Teresa Kenny said, standing in the frigid weather by the food scrap bins on Tuesday. “This is a good program for the environment and residents’ pocketbooks. We need to get the word out.”
How it works
There are 15 green bins at the Highway Department facility to hold food waste brought by residents in the biodegradable bags. Examples of waste include coffee grinds, meat, bones, fish, pasta, fruit, chips and bread.
The waste is then transferred to the Rockland Co-Composting Facility, operated by Rockland Green. There, it’s mixed with water sludge and other bio-solids. The process produces nutrient-rich compost for use on golf courses, flower gardens and landscaping projects.
The alternative has been transporting the waste 320 miles to a landfill, officials said.
Decomposing food scraps produces methane, a greenhouse gas 20 times more environmentally damaging than carbon dioxide, according to the town.
Kenny said she, her assistant Allison Kardon, and Rockland Green Executive Director Gerard Damiani worked for more than 18 months on the Orangetown program.
She said making recycling easier for residents is a key to success. She said the town is looking at future satellite drop-off locations or providing curbside pickup.
Inspiration across the river
Scarsdale launched its food scrap recycling program in 2017, which soon gave birth to similar programs in other Westchester communities, schools, and businesses. Scarsdale has since expanded to curbside pickup of separated food waste like other recyclable cans, bottles, paper products.
Rockland composters, a Facebook group for backyard composting, got wind of the program and visited the Scarsdale facility. They made a video of the trip and began advocating for Rockland Green and area towns to get involved.
Now, several town leaders around Rockland have hopes the Orangetown program can similarly kick off countywide involvement.
The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation is also promoting food waste reduction and recycling.
On Jan. 1, the state Food Scrap Donation and Recycling Law went into effect. It requires businesses and institutions that generate an annual average of 2 tons of wasted food per week or more must donate excess edible food and recycle all remaining food scraps if they are within 25 miles of an organics recycler, such as a composting facility and anaerobic digester.
Rockland Green and its board of commissioners have ambitious concepts countywide.
The board comprises the town’s five supervisors and appointed county legislators. Rockland Green is formerly the Rockland Solid Waste Management Authority, which covers Ramapo and Clarkstown, and parts of Orangetown.
The commissioners envision collections across five towns, then curbside pick up and potentially a facility to turn the compost and food waste into energy.
“When you take on a venture like this it’s always good to start small and learn all the nuances,” Commission Chair Howard Phillips, the Haverstraw supervisor, said. “This is, hopefully, the beginning for us to get into the last line of recycling in the waste stream. We’ve pretty much done everything. We’ve taken baby steps.”
Clarkstown Supervisor George Hoehmann, the board’s vice chair, said he wants the new recycling done in Clarkstown, but wants to see how successful Orangetown is and if all the kinks are smoothed out.
Asking for a commitment
Rockland has been recycling for decades but has not obtained 100% compliance for paper goods, cans, bottles, grass, leaves. branches, motor oil, tires and other items. But the program, started under Rockland’s first county executive John Grant in the late 1980s, has reduced the waste stream.
Damiani said the food waste account for another 30% of the waste stream.
Damiani said the program “had a soft start after Thanksgiving and then it started to ramp up. There’s room for improvement. We’ve just started.”
Kenny said she was told about the food scraps concept by Rockland Composters members Marcy Denker of Nyack and South Nyack residents Vicki Schwaid at an Orangetown Environmental Committee meeting.
Kenny said she recycles food waste and understands the program asks for a commitment from residents.
“As someone who has been doing it for several weeks now and is aware of the benefits of my efforts, I believe that this is something that we should all get behind,” she said.
Denker, the sustainability director of Nyack, said many people want to recycle food and other products and now they have the means.
“Anything thrown out in trash gets carted to a landfill upstate,” she said. “If we subtract the food, we’ll be better off. This is something people want to do.”
Basics for recycling food scraps
The rules are basic and include using the free disposable bio-degradable bags issued by Rockland Green and Orangetown. Kits are needed and can be bought from the operators.
Questions can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.orangetown.com.
Steve Lieberman covers government, breaking news, courts, police, and investigations. Reach him at email@example.com. Twitter: @lohudlegal. Read more articles and bio. Our local coverage is only possible with support from our readers.