By Deanna Albohn and Niki Nassiri
Community Action of Southold Town (CAST), a nonprofit serving low-income residents of Southold, received a $15,000 grant from the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to buy a refrigerated van and distribute fresh food to the community.
The money comes from a larger 27 grant project from the DEC to reduce food waste, streamline food donation and develop organics recycling programs across New York State.
“In addition to bringing food to community members, we are also using it for local food pick-ups,” Cathy Demeroto, executive director of CAST, said. “We are taking it to pick up fresh produce from farms and from local restaurants. More food goes to waste than it should and we are happy to play our role in our community to help end this.”
There are over 9,000 supermarkets and farms on Long Island that waste over 27 million pounds of food every day, according to Community Solidarity. Diverting food from landfills to composting sites drastically reduces methane, nitrous oxide and carbon dioxide, emissions known to fuel the greenhouse gas effect.
The Long Island Compost project launched the first anaerobic digester to process food waste in the N.Y. metropolitan region and is slated to begin operation at the end of 2020. Food waste from the grant receivers and other large generators of food scraps like restaurants, grocery stores and hotels will be sent to the compost in Yaphank. Anaerobic digestion breaks down organic matter found in food waste to process into renewable energy, called biogas. The biogas has less of a carbon footprint than traditional sources of energy. Unlike composting, anaerobic digestion works without oxygen.
The zero-oxygen environment of landfills converts wasted edible food into methane, a gas that traps 30 times more heat than carbon dioxide and contributes directly to climate change.
“Using anaerobic digesters can not only cut emissions, they can play a part in our renewable energy mix as we transition away from fossil fuels,” Jordan Christensen, a program coordinator at Citizens Campaign for the Environment, said.
“By composting organic material we’re keeping it out of the landfill,” Anja Timm, assistant to the director of operations at the Cornell Waste Management Institute, said. “When we facilitate the composting process we make a product that should go back into the land. The food was grown in the soil and needs to go back to the soil.”
The Town of Shelter Island received a $30,000 grant, part of the 27-town food scraps recycling project, to distribute home composters to residents and create a deer meat distribution facility.
“There’s a limited supply [of composters], but there is a large demand for it.” Brian Sherman, Superintendent of Shelter Island Highways, said. He noted an annual green fair where residents eagerly accepted home composters in the past.
Home food composting reduces the need for chemical fertilizers, which are made from nonrenewable energy sources and fossil fuels. The breakdown of food waste creates an organic, nutrient-rich fertilizer that is sustainable for the planet, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations’ webpage.
“Wasted food hurts needy families facing the terrible challenges of food insecurity and harms the environment by growing landfills and contributing to climate change,” Governor Cuomo said in a press release on Feb 11.
The Food Donation and Food Scraps Recycling Law goes into effect January 1, 2022 and will require large generators of food scraps donate excess edible food and recycle all remaining food scraps to an organics recycler, composting facility and anaerobic digester to reduce greenhouse gasses emitted by wasted food.
“These grants will help ensure that wholesome food that would normally be wasted is being used to feed community members and that we are successfully implementing the Food Waste Recovery and Recycling Act at the local level,” Christensen said.