In 2013, when the members of the grass-roots Transition Woodstock committee Woodstock Organic Waste (WOW) began working on how to get the town composting, none of the restaurants on Tinker Street and Mill Hill Road were ready to sign up, and residential pick-up was clearly not an option. Five years later, compostables are being picked up from several eateries, and the Saugerties transfer station is accepting food waste from residents, to be carted away weekly by the women-owned Community Compost Company of New Paltz.
“It’s been a total community effort,” said Jo Yanow-Schwartz, who was on the original WOW committee with Abbie Alberto, Abby Bressack, and Joy Gross. Schwartz credited Saugerties activist Mary McNamara, recently named Organic Recycling Coordinator, with getting composting up and running at the transfer station, just in time to receive food scraps from Thanksgiving dinners.
Composting has the potential to remove an estimated 25 to 30 percent of material going into our waste stream in the form of food scraps. Ulster County’s trash is trucked 250 miles to a landfill in Central New York, where organic waste rots and expels methane, said to contribute to global warming at a level 23 times higher than carbon dioxide.
“We are all concerned about climate change and as individuals often feel helpless because of the enormity of what faces us,” Schwartz observed. “Time and patience are needed if you seek any progress. Composting, however, delivers immediately. It is something we can all do. It is the proverbial ‘win-win’ situation because composting results in soil that is used in gardens and farms, and this is the oldest system of agriculture known to man.”
Backyard composting is not practical for many Woodstock households, given lack of space and the presence of wild animals, especially bears. WOW tried to work with two organic waste haulers over the years, but they did not find local population density sufficient to make residential pickup economically viable. Restaurants that already had contracts with trash and recycling haulers were not in a position to add composting to their chores.
Four years ago, West Saugerties farmers LaLa Montoya and Jared Williams set up a composting station at the Woodstock Farm Festival that operates on Wednesdays, spring through fall. Residents were invited to bring their compostables, and the couple also picked up from Sylvia, the Garden Cafe, and Sunflower Natural Foods, bringing food scraps to their farm to compost according to permaculture principles.
The Town of Woodstock put a policy into place that encouraged composting at all town events, from the annual Volunteers Day to the community Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners. At the events, volunteers from WOW help people sort compostables from trash. In the past, the food scraps have gone to the Ulster County Resource Recovery Agency (UCCRA) in Kingston, where in addition to trash and recycling disposal, the county operates an industrial composting system that can even handle food-soiled paper, not suitable for backyard compost piles. At this year’s community Thanksgiving, the composting will be handled by Zero to Go of Beacon, an education-based waste management company focused on composting and recycling. At the same time, residents who have Thanksgiving at home can bring their scraps to the transfer station.
All these initiatives have been building over the years, thanks in large part to the WOW founders and current WOW members Jess Lunt, Sharon Burns-Leader of Bread Alone, Montoya and Williams, Jana Smith, and Beverly Harris. The process took a big leap forward this fall with the acceptance of compostables at the Saugerties transfer station.
On his website, drawdown.org, Paul Hawken’s #3 solution, among 100 suggestions for drawing down greenhouse gases, is reduction of food waste. “That really solidified my desire to address excess food and food scraps that end up in landfills,” said Mary McNamara. She also noted the economic benefit of reducing the cost of garbage disposal by separating out food waste. Having heard from Schwartz about the search for a composting solution in Woodstock, it occurred to McNamara that the transfer station, used by both Saugerties and Woodstock, could provide a low-cost way to handle compostables.
McNamara had worked with Saugerties Highway Superintendent Doug Myer on flooding issues in the past. Now Myer was also supervising the transfer station and was willing to consider her proposal, if she agreed to coordinate the effort. At a Green Business presentation last summer, McNamara met the owners of Community Compost Company, which will be picking up once a week from the transfer station and from two restaurants in town, Shindig and Bread Alone.
Community Compost, founded in 2013 by Eileen Banyra and Noa Simons, currently provides residential and commercial composting services to areas of Ulster and Dutchess Counties as well as parts of northern New Jersey. Regulations for food waste are very strict. The work can only by handled by properly outfitted trucks and containers and taken to a properly run composting system. The company turns food scraps into fertile compost at their farm-based facility in Kerhonkson.
“We use an aerobic-style method,” said Molly Lindsay of Community Compost, “with aerated static piles and an electrically powered blower, connected to piping that has holes in it. The pipes run under the piles of food waste mixed with wood chips, leaves, and horse manure. Aerating stimulates bacteria to break down the material. It’s low-maintenance, with some mixing and turning.” After 30 days on the blowers, the material is taken off to cure for 60 days and then sent out for testing at a lab. Through the associated Hudson Soil Company, the finished compost is sold to local farms and to garden centers such as Victoria Gardens in Rosendale, Wallkill View Farm Market in New Paltz, and Adams in Kingston.
Then the compost is put onto the land to grow more food. Residents buy and eat the food, and the circle continues, instead of the dead end of food scraps rotting in a landfill and adding to climate change. Saugerties officials estimate the transfer station sends about 965 tons of solid waste per year to UCCRA at a cost of $103 per ton. Therefore, the more people use the Saugerties composting facility, the better the economics will be, justifying the continuation of the composting program.
What to compost at the Saugerties transfer station
A composting permit costs $15 for both town residents and non-residents. It’s good through the end of 2019. Bring your scraps in a bucket to the transfer station, located at 1765 Route 212, between Woodstock and Saugerties. For information about the residential composting program, call 845-679-0514. For information about WOW, call Jo Yanow-Schwartz, 845-802-6667, or Jess Lunt 845-24-0275.
Here is a list of what to compost and what to keep out:
Fruits, vegetables, meat, dairy, bones, grains, eggs, eggshells, coffee grounds, coffee filters, food-soiled paper (not cardboard), tea bags (minus staples).
Produce stickers, plastic of any kind, metal, glass, styrofoam (banned in Ulster County), coated papers, liquids, chemicals, frozen food boxes, waxed cardboard, grease, yard waste.