The Woodstock Environmental Commission (WEC) wants some help from the town to get more people to compost and reduce the waste being trucked to the landfill. To that end, the WEC seeks the Town Board’s support to apply for an ecological restoration grant from Partners for Climate Action of the Hudson Valley.
WEC is asking for $30,000 in the grant application to cover website design, hosting and expenses for a pilot program for about 250 participants.
The goal is to reduce the amount of waste that makes a daily 500-mile round-trip to the Seneca Meadows Landfill in Seneca Falls, N.Y. It is the largest active landfill in the state, spanning some 400 acres. The entire facility is about 2600 acres and accepts more than 6000 tons of garbage each day from three states.
“Even though we think of our garbage as being thrown away, the reality of ‘away’ is that communities across the country and the globe — and they’re often low-income communities and communities of color — become the sites of landfills,” WEC Chair Alex Bolotow told the Town Board at its September 13 meeting. “Although landfill technology has improved dramatically over the years, they still contribute to air, soil and water pollution, climate change and devaluation of property. So the carbon emissions created from the trucking alone are extensive.”
Ulster County sends five trucks to Seneca Falls each day, she said.
Some 50 percent of waste sent to the landfill from Ulster County is compostable and 21 percent is food scraps, Bolotow related.
“In the United States every year, 40% of the food that is produced is wasted. This food waste also accounts for a waste of water, energy and land, as well as the greenhouse gas emissions of more than 42 coal fired power plants,” she said. “Once that food waste ends up in a landfill, the methane gas released as it breaks down is 21 times more powerful of a greenhouse gas and carbon dioxide.”
The town, if awarded the grant, will look toward source reduction, she noted.
“On a community scale, this would look like education about topics like smart purchasing choices, proper food storage, how you can make your food last longer so that you’re not getting rid of so much food waste,” she said. “People who buy organic and plant-based diets tend to have more proportionate food waste, because those are foods that don’t last as long. So when you’re looking at something like the farmer’s market, it’s a really great space to be educating people about how to make them last longer.”
Not everyone can compost at home
The key is to make composting accessible to everyone through drop-off bins in convenient locations.
“We have some people who live in rural areas, we have some people who are adjacent to the commercial hamlet in town. We have people with cars, people who don’t have cars, people with yards, places that can accommodate at-home composting, and other people have concerns about wildlife,” Bolotow said. “They might live in apartments, they might be renters, and there’s also a wide variety of income ranges to consider.”
The most efficient composting method, if the resident has space, does not involve transportation.
“The end product of the composting can be used in your own garden as a natural fertilizer and amendment to improve soil health and water retention,” Bolotow said. “On the downside, it can be difficult for people who have to worry about bears and who don’t have enough outdoor space, who live in apartments. And it’s generally a method that can’t break down meat or dairy. So it is limited in some ways.”
WEC plans to partner with the Ulster County Resource Recovery Agency to purchase wholesale at-home compost tumblers for residents who want to participate in the program.
Drop sites will be provided for those who cannot compost at home through a partnership with Community Compost Company in Kerhonkson, who will pick up the material. One drop site could be provided in the center of town and another in the western end, both of which will require cooperation from the town.
Community Compost takes care of the compost bins, but they prefer each drop site also have garbage and recycling bins. Those would need to be emptied by town personnel.
WEC plans to offer 250 slots for the pilot program. Of those, 200 will be offered at half the normal $14-15 subscription fee. The remaining 50 slots will be offered at no cost to those whose income is 60 percent or less of the median income for Ulster County. The subscription fee covers maintenance of the drop centers pickup and education.
WEC plans to set up a website to get people involved and will be linked from the town website, woodstockny.org.
“We’re going to be surveying residents at the beginning and the end of the programs so that we can gather information about what worked, what didn’t work, and what can be adapted to best meet the needs of our community. And we plan to use local businesses for as much of the work for this as possible so that the grant money is going to stay within the community,” Bolotow said.
The pilot program plans to target minorities and those who live below the poverty line in two areas, north and south of Route 212.
“We feel that it’s really impossible to have a comprehensive composting strategy without addressing the needs of this population and ensuring that they have access to the program,” Bolotow said. “So this is going to include things like citing a drop site in a location that’s central to that area, so if people can’t drive, they can still access it, and offering financial subsidies to people so they can access these services.”
The goal is for the pilot to last one year and begin in 2023.
After that, WEC plans to return to the Town Board to report on what was learned and discuss the town’s commitments. It may ask the town to subsidize the subscription fees for some residents or seek more grants.
“First of all, I love the idea. I think it’s a perfect idea to have a year of introduction at no cost to the town. I think it makes a ton of sense to do that,” Council member Laura Ricci said.
“Thank you for looking into the areas that are environmental justice areas, because that’s oftentimes overlooked,” Council member Maria-Elena Conte said.
“The Seneca landfill is a problem. We’re trucking waste there. Obviously, we can reduce it. The amount of waste that that we can compost…we need to at least try. This is an excellent way to do that,” Council member Bennet Ratcliff said.
“Those two census tract areas have had seniors, people living on fixed incomes, have people who are making below the poverty line. And they are they are just as equal and partners in reducing waste.”
Supervisor Bill McKenna said he will have a resolution supporting the program at the next Town Board meeting.