NYC Food Waste Challenge Sort

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Back in November, Action Environmental hosted an event at their recycling facility in the Bronx in conjunction with NYC’s Food Waste Challenge to help the city quantify their diversion potential.

The NYC Food Waste Challenge is a pilot program that solicits voluntary participation from restaurants willing to commit at least 50% of its food waste to a composting facility instead of the landfill. Over 100 restaurants have committed, each agreeing to meet the 50% targets, recording waste data and communicating obstacles and successes. The city hopes this will serve as a feedback loop that will set the groundwork toward sustainable waste management.

Organized by the NYC Mayor’s Office of Long Term Planning and Sustainability and Global Green smelly trash bags were collected from a cross-section of restaurants across Manhattan and volunteers were tasked with opening, separating, categorizing, weighing and recording what was found.

The first few bags, filled with mixtures of food (cooked and expiring) and recyclables and trash, were an assault on the volunteer’s senses and after 4 grueling hours, over 50 bags of restaurant garbage were separated into diversion potential categories.  The Mayor’s Office is still crunching the numbers, but the mini mountains of non-landfill categories made NYC’s diversion potential evident to the naked eye. With some organization and education, NYC could achieve the City’s Landfill Waste Diversion goal of 75%.

A 75% diversion goal may seem high, especially since NYC’s diversion levels have actually fallen over the last decade. According to the Mayor’s Management Reports, NYC’s curb-side recycling has dropped 50%, from 35.1% in 2002 to 16.6% at the end of 2012. New York City has some unique challenges that other cities don’t face but the possibility for improvement is there.

Recently the Department of Sanitation piloted a compost collection program in public schools and several residential neighborhoods throughout the city. The results are promising. However, the city believes that without getting restaurants on board the city won’t reach its goal. According to the Mayor’s Office, the majority of restaurants do not compost because the services and infrastructure aren’t in place. Additionally, if a restaurant wanted to compost it would have to pay additional hauler costs, further cutting into their small margins. The Sustainable Restaurant Corps is working with restaurants to find a viable solution to this problem.

If the goal is to divert food waste from landfill, the Eco-Safe Digester is one solution.  It makes economic sense, meets health department requirements and is better for the environment.

After a long day at the transfer station it is evident that the city’s services and infrastructure need to improve, more efficient technology needs to be put in place, and restaurants need to redefine their processes and create better recycling habits.

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