- Community: New Paltz, NY
- Population: 12,830
- Urban, suburban or rural: mix
- Median household income: $40,452
- Roadside pickup/Drop-off: roadside pickup
- Started: 2012
- Payment: local taxes
- Mandatory: no
Curbside food scrap collection came to New Paltz, NY soon after the town partnered with the U. S. EPA to initiate a Zero Waste campaign in 2011. By 2013, it was available to all residents through private haulers.
“It’s hard to say how many people we have participating because that information is proprietary to the haulers,” says Laura Petit, who oversees recycling, solid waste management and the Zero Waste plan for the town.
Compliance: Law of Thirds
Petit admits to being “boots on the ground” in solid waste management (“It’s now ‘sustainable materials management’.”) for 30 years and states that, in terms of citizen cooperation with rules and regulations “we always find there are these standard thirds: a third of the people, no matter what, are going to be compliant and do it and they would’ve done it without any laws being in effect.
“And then you have another third that do it because it is a law,” she adds, noting “and we’re waiting for that! And then you have your final third that just don’t want to for whatever reason. They are difficult and noncompliant and almost seem to sabotage what you’re doing.” She notes that in New Paltz “it’s been a fight” to get their waste down from 800 tons a year to below the 300-ton mark since 2011.
“And I wish there was a silver bullet for that because we are dealing with that a lot here. It’s work and its hands-on and it’s constant,” she says.
Contamination: Doing it vs. doing it right
“Residential is the hard part because that’s where your contamination starts,” Petit says of food scrap/food waste collection. “Dealing with the contamination is done in a couple ways, and the most important way is to have a good relationship and education program with the producers of it.”
Once the material arrives at a composting site, Petit says, “you have to go into the bins, which have to be opened anyway because that helps to break down the material faster. But you have to go in there and do an evaluation of what’s coming in and clean out things like server gloves, plastic lettuce bags, and plastic bottles.” Reducing that, she notes, is about education, including direct mail, local media, and signage—the most critical aspect of contamination control for her operation regardless of whether material is coming from the State University of New York dining hall, the Sodexho food preparation plant, the local culinary institute, or household kitchens.
“People handling the food have to be trained and reminded about what goes in the compost, what goes in the recycling and what goes in the trash,” she says, referring to the standard “Three Bin System” used in many communities. “Pictures help,” she adds.
Education: Consumer modification—at the top of the hierarchy
"Whoever is generating any kind of waste really needs to understand what’s going on with it,” Petit believes. “If we could dispel the magic of putting your material at curbside and kind of show people that just because they put it out by the curb, the fairy doesn’t show up and sprinkle the magic dust on it and it disappears. Far from that,” she says. “That’s only the beginning of a journey. It gets picked up by a hauler who takes it to another location, and it may be transported again if it doesn’t go right to a registered composting site. So there’s nitrogen impact, there’s carbon impact, your increasing those footprints significantly.
"We're always hoping to reduce what goes out to the curb. For people who are in line for curbside composting, as much emphasis as possible should be on using that material at their house,” Petit says, noting the most important part of that “is to get the consumers to reduce what they’re purchasing. Then you also ramp up the food recovery program because the amount of food that can either go to a farm for animals or to kitchens for people—it’s really overwhelming.”
“We also have some backyard composters,” Petit says. “We’ve had classes and folks who came in for that got a free Earth Machine, which is a little 80-gallon composting bin. And you could see their trash drop because we have a pay-as-you-throw system and some of them had four or five bags a week and they were getting down to two or three, so we’ve been very excited about that and it’s not necessarily the tree huggers.”
Economics: Shaping the outcome
In fact, food waste recycling should be a boost to local economies, Petit believes, noting “economic development is an important part of this. Custom Community Compost and Greenway got started as a result of this. It’s like if you build it they will come. It does create other jobs. There are jobs in monitoring and management. The green thing does help businesses. Look at Frito-Lay, which was for a long time collecting their not-sold-by material and trucking it out to farms in New York and now they are doing that locally here and farmers are picking it up.”
Working with local farmers “would be the next thing in terms of where this material is going to go,” Petit suggests. “Keep a lot of local drop-off locations for the haulers so that they’re willing to participate and they don’t get so stressed.”
New Paltz is served by three haulers, according to Petit: “One just does composting, one does composting and other recyclables and trash; one is a very large hauler, that handles large roll off containers, dumpsters, and services large,” Petit says, noting that for the haulers “the scary part of that is, do you have enough facilities? Because there is a lot of organic waste out there.”
Permitting: Flexibility in the system
She notes that the recent decision to allow registered composting sites in New York to increase the amount of material they can handle from 1000 yards to 5000 yards per week has helped. And having several sites to choose from allows haulers to be more flexible with routes and timing, which is important because food waste is heavy—and smelly.
“Royal Carting brings a portion of the organics to us, but if he’s hauling in Dutchess County, on the other side of the Hudson, then he may head north and go to McEnroe, which is a very large permitted facility pretty close to the Connecticut border,” she explains. “So we all work together which is very important in case you have to upgrade or you have a failure of your system.”
Petit also notes having many smaller capacity facilities instead of one big one is also an advantage because, like Vermont, their region has many farms and “part of the agreement is that the local farmers get this great compost to use on their site.