In the beginning of 2013, the Ulster County Resource Recovery Agency embarked on a new composting initiative to increase its recycling rate and divert valuable organic material from landfill disposal. At a time when many recycling programs have hit a plateau across the nation, food waste is commonly seen as the next segment of the solid waste stream to be tapped for diversion and the Agency plans to be a part of the organics diversion movement.
Since the Ulster County and the Mid-Hudson Region of New York do not have a municipal solid waste (MSW) landfill, the Ulster County Resource Recovery Agency currently transports MSW to a landfill in Central New York, at substantial economic and environmental costs. Last year, Ulster County spent in excess of $1.5 million on diesel fuel, driving over 2.2 million miles and emitting over 5,500 MTCDE to transport waste to distant facilities.
At the same time, Ulster County is fortunate to have one of the two municipally-operated Extended Aerated Static Pile (EASP) composting facilities in New York State. This Agency-operated facility accepts organics, including food scraps, yard waste and other compostable materials from commercial entities and creates a finished compost product which can be used as a soil amendment. The Agency’s EASP method of composting significantly reduces fuel use and greenhouse gas pollution when compared to landfilling these materials. This process eliminates the need for transporting organic waste across the State and reduces methane emissions that occur when organic materials anaerobically decompose at a landfill. In addition, composting produces a valuable soil amendment that can lessen the use of energy intensive synthetic fertilizers, stabilize soil pH and improve the soil’s ability to hold nutrients, increase water holding capacity of soil-reducing watering needs and help in binding and degrading specific pollutants.
The Agency’s organics recovery facility currently processes 500 tons of commercial food waste annually. Considering that approximately 12.5% of the municipal solid waste stream is food waste which could be diverted to the County’s composting facility, there is substantial opportunity to expand the volume of waste diverted from landfills for disposal to the Agency’s facility. The Agency estimates that in Ulster County’s commercial waste stream, there are 20,000 tons of food waste disposed of as MSW annually. The Agency’s constituents also benefit from the significantly reduced tip fees for organic waste management.