Cutting Back on Food Waste With Composting Law

By Liat Guvenc

The Ulster County Mandatory Food Scraps and Composting Law will commence on April 22.

 This law requires that places producing at least two tons of food per week compost their food waste or process it through an Anaerobic Digestion facility. The mandate will incrementally drop to 0.5 tons per week in April 2023.

Ulster county produces 130,000 tons of garbage a year, 40% of which is organic waste. According to Laura Pettit, the recycling coordinator from the New Paltz Recycling Center, the reduction of organic waste will decrease the amount of garbage sent to landfills to at least 10 tons.

Organic waste in landfills releases methane, a leading cause of climate change. Converting organic waste into compost can produce nutrient-rich soil for farmers in Ulster county instead or materials for building roads. 

Anaerobic digestion occurs when food waste is treated with the absence of oxygen. It turns food waste into biogas, which is usable as fuel and waste water treatment.

Peregrine Dining Hall, which serves Sodexo on the SUNY New Paltz campus, has been a leader in composting and has been used as a model for other large food generators. Since 2009, 1,500 tons of food waste has been composted from the school, according to Lisa Mitten, the sustainability coordinator at SUNY New Paltz.

The new law recommends that businesses cut back on avoidable food waste in addition to mandating composting or anaerobic digestion. Sodexo is reducing food waste in the kitchen through the Leanpath Program which educates food preparers on how to reduce avoidable food waste. 

Kevin Dicey, the general manager of Sodexo, partnered with the office of sustainability on campus, and worked to educate students on the nuances of composting. Because improper food waste disposal can ruin a yield of compost, sustainability ambassadors, or students working for the office of sustainability, showed other students how to separate food waste into the proper bins in the dining hall. 

According to Manna Jo Greene, the sponsor of the bill and the chair of the Ulster County Legislature’s Energy and Environment Committee, there will be a county-hired sustainability educator to teach businesses how to compost. Those who already compost, like Sodexo, will play a role in educating other businesses in the community.

The law also has a provision for separating out edible food for donation to food pantries or soup kitchens “to the maximum extent practicable” but businesses are not required to do so. The legislature intends to send out a list of food pantries which businesses can donate to.

Sodexo uses the New Paltz Food Recovery program to separate edible food which they donate to the food pantry and shelters. The Family of New Paltz Food Pantry received donations from Sodexo in past years. Current contributors include Shoprite, Tops and the Rotary Club. According to Icilma Lewis, the assistant director of The Family of New Paltz Food Pantry, donations are in demand.

“It comes right in and goes right out. As soon as it’s stocked, it goes,” Lewis said.

The Ulster County Mandatory Food Scraps and Composting Law is more inclusive than the New York State composting law which exempts hospitals and schools from participating. 

“If [people] go to a school or a college where composting is the practice. They learn how to do it and they expect it to be part of how we manage waste… If they don’t then it seems foreign, unfamiliar, difficult,” Greene said.