A new plan to reduce landfill waste

A truck dumps compost-able trash at the Ulster County Resource Recovery Agency facility during a recent demonstration. (photo by Lynn Woods)

In a Hudson Valley first, the Ulster County Resource Recovery Agency is now accepting food scraps, yard waste and other organic waste from businesses, institutions and other commercial type operations for composting. The new pilot program, which was announced in May, seeks to solve several problems: reduce the amount of garbage the agency has to haul to landfills, thereby resulting in savings; improve the environment, specifically by reducing the amount of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, produced at landfills; and generate revenue through sale of the finished product to golf courses, gardeners, landscapers, farms and other users of the organically rich composting material.

“This is good for everyone,” said Timothy Rose, executive director of the UCRRA, at a ground-breaking ceremony on Aug. 22 for the new composting area at the UCRRA facility on Route 32 in the Town of Ulster. “We’ve had a lot of support from the community, both environmental and political,” he added. Both Ulster County Legislature Chairwoman Terry Bernardo and Legislator Ken Wishnick attended the event.

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“We’re very proud and happy to have had such great participation from the business community,” added Michelle Bergkamp, recycling coordinator for the URCCA. She said approximately 10 businesses, including Hannaford, Stop & Shop and Farm to Table, are participating, as well as SUNY New Paltz, the Culinary Institute of America and Vassar and Marist colleges in Dutchess. “We hope more Ulster County school districts will participate,” she said.

Businesses or institutions who participate pay half the municipal solid waste fee — $50, versus the full fee of $100. Bergkamp said the agency projects composting from 20 to 30 tons of organic waste a week, a level which she expects to become permanent. Food waste currently constitutes approximately 15 percent of the county’s commercial waste.

 

Big savings, small investment

Bergkamp said large supermarkets such as Wal-Mart and Whole Foods that fully utilize a composting program save between $5,000 and $10,000 per store. Because food waste tends to be wet and heavy, diverting it from the waste stream can dramatically reduce the volume of trash that has to be picked up.

Bergkamp said that in her list of priorities, composting food waste was the next logical step after recycling. Currently, Ulster County recycles 40.7 percent of its total waste — a tad higher than the 38 percent state average and nearly double the 21.5 percent rate in 2005.

The UCRRA is also encouraging individual households to compost in their back yards and sells a plastic composter, comprised of recyclable material, at cost for $60. Bergkamp said over the last two years, the agency has sold approximately 2,000 composters.

The UCCRA invested $40,000 in setting up the pilot program — a drop in the bucket considering the agency spent $8 million last year in disposing of county trash, which is trucked to two landfills in the western part of the state. Terry Laibach, regional recycling specialist at the state’s Department of Conservation’s Region 3 office, who was at the event, said half of that $40,000 investment is refundable through a state grant.

The pilot program utilizes an “extended aerated static pile” method of composting, which consists of a 40-by-100-yard area laid with rows of plastic pipe. Peter Moon, the project’s engineer — Moon is a licensed civil engineer based in Snohomish, Washington, who has worked with numerous municipalities and institutions in the Pacific Northwest as well as in New York State, Pennsylvania, and eastern Ohio — pointed to a pile of wood chips laid over one of the pipes and explained how the system works.

After being dumped in an area partitioned off on three sides by cement blocks and mixed with wood-chip mulch, the waste is moved to one of the plastic pipes and piled up to a height of eight feet. Each pipe, which is perforated with holes, is connected to a blower, housed in a small shed resembling a doghouse. Over the next 30 days, the blower is turned on for two minutes every 20 minutes to shoot air into the pile, an aerating process that expedites water absorption and provides “porosity,” preventing noxious gases from forming and keeping away pests. (Unlike old-fashioned, smaller-scale systems, such as that used by the town of New Paltz, in which waste is turned periodically in a windrow, the food waste isn’t turned in this method.)

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