The Ulster County Resource Recovery Agency is committed to policies that foster waste reduction and diversion from disposal, which is why in 2012 UCRRA identified and responded to the local need to reduce the waste stream and create a more sustainable way to manage organic wastes such as food scraps. Following its mission for sustainable materials management, in 2012 the Agency moved to pioneer an organics recovery program that would create an alternative to landfill disposal of food waste, pursue leadership in the environmental benefits of composting, and demonstrate the feasibility and economic benefits of large scale composting.
At the time the pilot project began, there were no active municipal facilities in the Mid-Hudson Region that accepted food scraps for composting. During the early years of the project, Ulster County was generating more than 160,000 tons of municipal solid waste which was transported 250 miles to distant landfills nearing capacity. The Agency saw the potential to substantially reduce its carbon footprint, save on transportation and disposal costs, and provide a needed service.
The UCRRA developed a vision and became engaged in a collaborative planning process. The Agency gauged community interest through surveys of local businesses and solid waste haulers. The Agency reviewed technical options for large scale composting, and worked collaboratively with various stakeholders to design and utilize the best technology available, ultimately applying an extended aerated static pile (EASP) method of composting. A formal business plan was created to delve deeper into major logistics like regulations, operations, marketing, and the potential financial impact of the program.
The composting pilot project was created through a permit modification to start accepting source separated organics in addition to the authorization to accept MSW and dual stream recyclables. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation showed tremendous support, provided regulatory oversight, and offered educational resources to assist the Agency in developing and maintaining the compost pilot site.
As a result of the success and community support of the pilot, UCRRA expanded the operation in 2016. In the years since the expansion, the program has become a fully established organics recovery operation. 7,859 tons of source separated organics have been diverted from disposal since 2016, representing a cost avoidance to the public of $809,498 in municipal solid waste (MSW) tipping fees. By composting this material instead of landfilling 250 miles away, 224 tractor trailer transport vehicles were removed from the road and 21,280 gallons of diesel fuel were conserved (2016-18). The pollution prevention from transportation and disposal of this food represents 216 tons of carbon dioxide and another 510,835 kilograms of methane (2016-18).
Composting wasted food prevents the environmental pollution that contributes to global climate change. Food is highly putrescible and when buried in landfills, organics degrade anaerobically to create methane, a greenhouse gas more potent than carbon dioxide. Waste is often transported great distances to large, regional landfills. Furthermore, composting food waste closer to the source of waste generation prevents carbon dioxide pollution from transportation. Plant wastes such as food residuals are a valuable resource, and when managed through composting, food becomes a beneficial soil amendment which can be used to improve local soil quality. Compost has many horticultural benefits and uses and helps contribute to soil carbon-sequestration. Compost aids in storm water management, moisture retention, and adds beneficial soil organisms. These benefits help conserve water, reduce runoff, suppress plant disease pathogens, and reduces the need to use chemical fertilizers and pesticides.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, food waste is the largest component of material that gets buried in landfills, making up 15% of the total waste stream nation-wide, of which only 9% is diverted through composting . Here in New York State, it’s estimated that organic materials make up about 23% of the total waste stream and less than 3% is being diverted from disposal. New York’s Beyond Waste Plan outlines strategies to reduce waste through sustainable materials management, and the Ulster County Resource Recovery Agency has followed the guidance outlined in the State’s plan by implementing its innovative organics recovery project and community engagement programs.
The Agency demonstrates superior practices by using the Extended Aerated Static Pile (EASP) method of composting, a process by which organics are unloaded onto a bed of ground yard waste in a mixing bay, and then blended with a bulking agent (wood chips), and placed on an aeration pad for a 35 day process cycle. Perforated pipes and blowers allow air to circulate through the pile continuously, providing direct control of the process, optimizing the rate of decomposition, and minimizing risk of odors. This method does not require the material to be turned manually, which further reduces operating costs. Active composting is generally finished within 35 days, when the compost is removed from the pad and cured in piles for an additional 30 days. A high quality, locally produced compost product is the end result of these processes, which has many horticultural benefits and applications, and aids in improving local soil quality. The EASP technology demonstrated the ease, cost-effectiveness, and practicality of municipal composting, and UCRRA continues to use this technology to this day.
The Agency demonstrates superior practices by utilizing management techniques that prevent odors and nuisances during the food waste composting operations. A well-managed operation can control the odors, vectors, run off, and other nuisances that could potentially be present in large scale composting operations. The UCRRA is successful in applying a proactive approach to preventing these nuisances, managing large volumes of food waste in a sanitary manner, and using consistent management practices and advanced techniques such as; unloading material directly onto a bed of bulking agent to absorb excess moisture and reduce runoff; managing odors and runoff by mixing food residuals with 3:1 proportions of bulking agent; adding more bulking agent as needed according to the characteristics of the material; managing food waste promptly; using a consistent aeration cycle of supplying air to the composting zones for 5 minutes every 15 minutes; and preventing odor risks by planning for future weather events. The Agency does not have nuisances at the facility because of these standards and excellence in our operations team.
Connecting our Community Through Composting
The Agency believes that the composting program has started an important conversation within our community about waste, and created an increased community awareness about reduction, reuse, and recycling. UCRRA continues to work with large waste generators to be a vital outlet for managing food scraps. UCRRA has two full-time staff members, a Recycling Coordinator and an Educator, dedicated to community engagement and outreach education to inform the public about the benefits of waste reduction, recycling, and composting. UCRRA conducts educational tours of the facility, workshops about home composting, programs for youth in schools, libraries, and other programs. The UCRRA also provides free resources for schools, businesses, and homeowners looking to start composting on their own. Agency staff regularly attend solid waste, recycling, and composting conferences and tradeshows across New York State to stay connected with peers, receive comprehensive industry updates, and gain access to the best knowledge available to bring back to their own program and larger community.
UCRRA’s composting operation has had significant environmental, social, and economic benefits. Composting reduces greenhouse gas emissions at landfills, lessens waste disposal costs for the general public, and increases reuse, all while creating an end product that improves local soil quality and carbon sequestration. The Agency has built lasting partnerships throughout the Region and has demonstrated superior practices and outstanding leadership in administering the program, going beyond the call of duty to provide technical support to several other municipalities looking to create similar programs as well as offering free environmental education and resources to the public.
Grow Ulster Green!
To date, the RRA has sold 4,800 tons of locally produced compost resulting from these operations. Compost has many horticultural benefits and applications. Compost can be used to plant trees, shrubs, flowers, vegetables; it can be used on turfs, sown directly into fields and garden beds, used in greenhouses, for seed starter packs or container gardening. Compost aids in storm water management, moisture retention, improves soil structure, adds beneficial soil organisms that suppress plant disease pathogens, and reduces the need for chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Local farmers, landscape contractors, and hobby gardeners offer excellent feedback about their satisfaction in the high quality compost made at the UCRRA, available for such an affordable price of $30/ton
The UCRRA further demonstrates superior practices by participating in the Seal of Testing Assurance (STA) program through the US Composting Council. The STA program is a compost testing, labeling, and information disclosure program and is regarded as “the consensus of many of the leading compost research scientists in the United States” (USCC, 2019). The Agency’s finished compost is tested four times per year at two independent STA certified laboratories. Compost Technical Data Sheets are made available for the public, viewable in an online database.
Our compost product is available for purchase Monday through Friday from 7 am to 4 pm; Saturday from 7 am to 3 pm for $3o per ton (minimum load $20) at the facility located at 999 Flatbush Road in Kingston. Please note that the compost is only sold in bulk. ***1 ton of compost is approximately equivalent to 2 cubic yards.
The Ulster County Resource Recovery Agency is always looking to the future to continue to anticipate and respond to the public need for community composting, which is why the Agency recently purchased land adjacent to the facility, with hopes of expanding operations once more and doubling organics recovery capacity by 2022. UCRRA is proud of the organics recovery program; it has become a vital asset to the community, an essential outlet for wasted food, not only for Ulster County NY, but to the greater solid waste management system in the mid Hudson Region.