As school starts back up in a just a few weeks, the children at Public School 30 on Staten Island will once again be asked to dump their uneaten bananas into a bin in the back of their cafeteria.
New York City’s school composting program, kicked off just two years ago, is now in 230 school buildings in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Staten Island, and is expected to more than double in size and reach all five boroughs in the fall, with an ultimate goal of encompassing all 1,300-plus school buildings.
The sad voyage of fruits and vegetables from lunch lady to landfill has frustrated parents, nutritionists and environmentalists for decades. Children are still as picky and wasteful as ever, but at least there is now a happier ending — that banana-filled bin is a composting container, part of a growing effort to shrink the mountains of perfectly good food being hauled away to trash heaps every year.
Much of food waste stream is a result of nutrition rules that require every child to be served healthy food, and health rules that ban re-serving unwrapped food once it has been placed on a lunch tray, for fear of contamination.
Depending on where the school is, the uneaten and half-eaten leftovers are sent to a compost heap at a former Staten Island landfill or 123 miles away to Delaware. The 123 mile trip is far too long of a trip to turn the food waste into compost, so the city will begin sending some of those scraps to a wastewater treatment plant in Brooklyn, where “digesters” will turn garbage into usable gas.
The Eco-Safe Digester offers two additional benefits to this proposed solution at the Brooklyn facility, eliminating the logistical nightmares with transporting the scraps by pre-sorting and pre-digesting the food waste into a liquid and providing key data to help guide changes to future nutrition rules.
Depending on viewpoint, the sheer amount of school food now being composted is either impressive or depressing not to mention the transportation-related energy consumption, the economics of transportation, and the environmental impacts surrounding composting.
The hope is that by diverting the waste from landfill, the city will help the environment, instill a sense of conservation in schoolchildren and, critically, save some money. The city currently pays $93 per ton to dump in landfills.
The idea of sending scraps to local wastewater treatment facilities to where “digesters” will turn the food waste into useable gas sounds far less complicated, more economical, and a better option for the environment.