Posts tagged ‘composting’
Local Food Advocates Named to Regional Economic Development Council
Two local food advocates were appointed to Gov. Cuomo’s New York City Regional Economic Development Council: Marcel Van Ooyen, executive director of GrowNYC, the nonprofit behind the city’s thriving network of Greenmarkets; and Steve Hindy, president of the Brooklyn Brewery.
The New York City Regional Economic Development Council is one of 10 regional councils Gov. Cuomo launched last month to drive local economic development and improve the business climate statewide. Each council will compete for state funding from a total pot of up to $1 billion in economic development aid. (more…)
The Union Square Greenmarket is New York City’s biggest and best-known site for eco-conscious residents to drop off kitchen scraps for composting.
Now they have more sites. On March 5, seven additional Greenmarkets began collecting food scraps from the public on a pilot basis through June 25. Find out where.
Gardeners, gardeners, how do your gardens grow?
Until recently little was known of New York City’s roughly 500 community gardens beyond the fact that the majority of them – 80 percent – grew food.
Now efforts are underway to find out what and how much is growing in city garden plots. Last year, Farming Concrete, a project to quantify the bounty of city gardens, began releasing its initial findings. And last month, two environmental organizations, GrowNYC and Green Thumb, released a report on a joint survey of 223 community gardens conducted from August 2009 to July 2010.
The 223 gardens surveyed represented 6,300 garden members, with an average of 29.2 members per garden. More than four out of 10 gardens reported using more than 50 percent of their gardens for growing food.
The five top veggies were tomatoes, sweet peppers, beans, eggplants and cucumbers. The sixth, surprisingly, were jalapeños. Collards were the most popular leafy green, followed by lettuce and kale.
The majority of the gardens surveyed had fruit trees, with apple and peach trees being the most popular. Cherry trees came in third.
The report found that about 65% of the gardens surveyed had a compost system. Most allowed only members and neighborhood residents to participate in the compost pile. Only 13% opened the compost system to the public (see related post here).
The report is a treasure trove of garden information, exploring how the food is used, the presence of greenhouses, chicken coops and other structures, and partnerships with local schools and community groups.
Check it out!
Have any idea how much food New Yorkers throw out on an average day? It’s about 2,000 tons, equal to the weight of more than 300 elephants, according to this eight-minute film co-written, produced, shot and edited by Alison Bryne in 2006.
TrashIn’ the Big Apple quickly frames the environmental issue – the 300 elephants’ worth of daily food waste piles up in landfills, where it sits unable to decompose. The solution? Composting. The film features restaurant owners who contribute their kitchen scraps to local gardens for composting and city officials and others who run large composting facilities. It even provides a quick demonstration of indoor composting, showing the wiggler worms and bins I blogged about here.
Food waste is not the world’s most exciting topic, but the filmmaker manages to make the unpalatable palatable through animation, fun music and lively narration. More importantly, she shines a light on an environmental issue that we can all help rectify. It’s definitely worth the watch. Here’s the link to the film:
In my post, Shooting for the Stars, I mentioned that roughly 1 million tons of the city’s annual waste stream consists of food scraps and other organic material that could be composted. OK, but how much of that, I wondered, was actually composted? I didn’t have the answer then, but I do now. According to the New York City Department of Sanitation, the city composts between 15,000 and 30,000 tons per year of organics via leaf, Christmas tree, and spring yard waste collections. It produces about 30,000 cubic yards of compost annually.
So, let’s take a step back. New York City composts about 1.5% to 3% of what it could be composting. I think New Yorkers can do much better than that. Why not shoot for getting the composting rate to match the city’s recycling rate of 16.5%. New Yorkers can do it. Why not give it a shot?
Recycling is probably the most obvious way to reduce the waste going to landfills and incinerators. But as environmentalists and food activists know, we can further reduce waste in another, though less obvious, way: through food composting.
In New York – a city that collects roughly 11,000 tons of garbage a day – the impact of composting could be enormous. The New York Department of Sanitation estimates that 26 percent of its waste stream consists of food scraps and other organic material that could be composted. That’s 2,860 tons of “garbage” a day that could be prevented from going to landfills, or roughly 1 million tons annually.
I’ve been trying to find out how much of the 1 million tons of organic material is composted citywide, but so far that number has been hard to come by.
I did find out, though, how much we’re recycling. Want to venture a guess? In 2007, New Yorkers recycled 16.5 percent of their trash, according to the Department of Sanitation. That’s not particularly good, especially given the superstar performance of Hamburg, Germany, Europe’s trash recycling champion. According to a New York Times article, Hamburg today recycles 800,000 tons of the 1.4 million tons of trash it generates, or 57 percent. Not bad. Not bad at all.
I thank environmental stars like Hamburg. They give those left in their wake something to shoot for.
As I mentioned in my last post, some adventurous New Yorkers are starting composting bins in their apartments. They’re putting them in closets, under sinks and tables, in bathrooms, even living rooms.
Since I don’t see myself ever setting up a composting bin in my apartment, I started doing the next best thing: I’ve been dropping off my food scraps at a collection site. All my food refuse – from eggshells and tea bags to orange peels and stalks of kale – now go into a plastic bag I keep in the freezer. At the end of the week, I drop it off at the farmers market, where it then goes to a composting facility at the Lower East Side Ecology Center in Manhattan.
However much I drop off – it’s at least two pounds – it’s that much waste that I’m keeping from the landfill and redirecting into something useful. The Lower East Side Ecology Center collects about 60 tons of organic material a year and produces about 15 tons of compost. The “paydirt”—as the Center calls it – is used to beautify parks and community gardens.
A no brainer, wouldn’t you say? It’s much better to have 15 tons of compost to enrich gardens than to have 60 tons of festering food trash. With all of America’s food waste, the environmental impact of more composting could be significant. In 1995, the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimated that consumers, restaurants, and supermarkets and other food retailers lost about 27% of the country’s edible food supply, a whopping 96 billion pounds of food. Most of the food loss – 26 percent – occurred in people’s homes and in restaurants and other food establishments.
No one understands this better than freegans, a group that attempts to live off the things others throw into the trash. They go through the nation’s dumpsters in search of still edible food — unsold produce and bread at the supermarket for example — and other things, like clothes, furniture and electronics. The “dumpster divers” do so for environmental and economic reasons, not because they need to. Freegans avoid buying anything so as not to support what they see as an evil, rotten-to-the-core capitalist economic system. “As freegans,” they write on their Web site, “we forage instead of buying to avoid being wasteful consumers.” They also seek to reduce the waste going to landfills and incinerators, which they note “are disproportionately situated within poor, non-white neighborhoods, where they cause elevated levels of cancer and asthma.”
They’re a passionate bunch for sure. I’m not ready to sort through the trash bins of say the Garden of Eden, a high-end grocery store in Manhattan described in the freegan dumpster directory as “one of the best diving sites in the city”, but I do understand the freegan line of thinking and the point they’re trying to make.
Others are cashing in – literally – on America’s food waste. Ever hear of a “grease thief,” the latest arrival on the crime scene? These individuals slip into the backs of fast-food chains and other eating establishments to “steal” fryer grease, a suddenly valuable commodity sought by people wishing to convert it into biofuel. As Susan Saulny explains in a recent New York Time article, grease is traded on the commodities markets, and it’s fetching in the ballpark of 33 cents a pound.
Neither money nor noble principles would persuade me to “dumpster dive” for food scraps or hunt for grease. But I am willing to take responsibility for my own food waste. I’ll continue dropping off my frozen scraps at the farmers market, where I go weekly anyway. I’ll do my part, while freegans and grease thieves do theirs.
Picture this: a beautiful Saturday afternoon in Manhattan during Memorial Day weekend. Gathered in a community garden are 45 people, at least – all sitting politely on benches waiting for three women to speak. A performance perhaps? A poetry-reading? A talk maybe on how to grow peonies?
Guess again. The folks that Saturday were there to learn about indoor composting. Yes, that’s right. They were planning to set up composting bins in their apartments, complete with 1,000 squirming red wiggler worms, the champions of food decomposition.
Any worries, you ask, about odor? Or worse, fruit flies?
Not this bunch. If they set up and maintained their composting bins properly, they were assured they wouldn’t have any such problems.
“You know you’ve messed up if it smells,” said Carey Pulverman, a striking young red-head from the Lower East Side Ecology Center who ran the composting workshop.
Carey walked the group through all the steps needed to build the perfect odor-free, bug-free composting bin, a place where worms could live and “be happy.”
“Don’t over-feed the worms,” she advised. “The worms won’t be happy.” Carey explained that worms consume about three pounds of food per week, roughly equal to a 10-cup container.
When the workshop ended, people lined up to buy their $10 composting bins, euphemistically called “worm condos” in the promotional flyer. The bins looked like the plastic storage bins you’d find in The Container Store, except that it had four air vents. They also received vouchers for a start-up container of the red wiggler worms. The bin and the voucher cost $10, a bargain. Ordinarily they go for $45.
While the number of New Yorkers that are composting indoors is not known, workshops such as this one consistently draw big crowds. According to Carey, the workshop usually fills to capacity. Similar workshops at the botanical gardens are equally well attended with a good percentage of participants buying the $10 bins. The Queens Botanical Garden, for instance, reaches about 300 people per month.
The workshops are part of a citywide program—the NYC Compost Project – to reduce the garbage that winds up in landfills. According to the Department of Sanitation, the average household discards two pounds of organic waste a day, adding up to 1 million tons of organic material a year. At that rate, food gets compacted and doesn’t decompose to the same grade that it otherwise would, said Karla Osorio-Perez, manager of the Brooklyn Compost Project at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Worse, when discarded in plastic bags, food scraps don’t get a chance to decompose at all.
Penelope Cruz of Williamsburgh, Brooklyn, one of the participants attending the workshop at the Manhattan community garden, has been dropping off her food scraps at a community garden for years. “I hate throwing things away,” she said, adding that she now wants to make her own compost in case she starts a garden in the parking lot near her home.
Carey, the workshop leader, explained that an indoor composting bin requires four essential ingredients: food for the worms, water, air and lots of “fluffy bedding” or moist newspaper strips loosely scrunched up. The bedding should always cover the food scraps.
Getting it all right sometimes takes time. If the newspaper strips are too wet and “not fluffy enough,” it will cause the bin to smell. So will meat, dairy and oily products like leftover Indian food. Too many food scraps can also cause a stinky bin.
“What about orange peels?” someone asks.
Orange peels, Carey explains, are OK, provided the bin is not overwhelmed with pounds of peels at once.
“The worms,” she says with an infectious smile, “won’t be happy.”
For more information about composting workshops in New York City, go to www.nyccompost.org.