Pelhams should join other municipalities in composting food scraps

To the editor:

Seventeen municipalities in Westchester operate food-scraps composting programs, with another three implementing in 2020. Pelham should join these municipalities. I’ll tell you why.

Food-scraps composting turns food waste into rich fertilizer. Microorganisms decompose food and create a natural fertilizer that can be used to enrich soil. Aerobic decomposition produces almost no greenhouse gases. In fact, composting sequesters carbon in the soil (rather than putting it in the air by burning) and limits methane by keeping food out of landfills.

New York has adopted the Environmental Protection Agency’s waste management hierarchy, which ranks waste management strategies from most to least environmentally preferred. Composting is cleaner than energy recovery (which is the burning of trash for electricity).

As the chart shows, burning trash for electricity has a place in the waste system. A good waste-to-electricity system is preferable to landfilling waste that remains after recycling and composting programs have been maximized.

Instead of wasting energy trying to burn food, composting food scraps produces a valuable product that results in cleaner soil, water and air. Further, when food waste is removed, it increases the efficiency of the incinerator because food is 90% water. Water slows the burning of our other trash. Having water in an incinerator is not efficient.

I’ve told you a bit about why we should compost food scraps. Now let me allay some common fears and misconceptions in answer to those who say we shouldn’t.

1. Food scraps programs are expensive.

A food scraps program would cost about $5,000 per year. Pelham Manor’s budget for refuse collection for the 2019-2020 year is $435,405. The budget for disposal is $62,500.

2. It smells and attracts vermin.

Not true. When properly managed, compost piles do not stink. We handle food waste exactly as we handle our other trash, except we put food into a different bucket. The scraps are dropped off at a collection site in Pelham (or picked up curbside) and from there are sent to Ulster County.  I’ve been to the Scarsdale facility. I’ve stuck my nose into the bins waiting for pick up. They do not smell. Scarsdale has cameras at their site; they do not have vermin. Visit the Scarsdale facility. They love teaching people about the program!

3. Our town already composts /I have a composter in my backyard.

The Village of Pelham Manor composts yard clippings like grass and leaves, not food. You already have a home composter? So do I! But so much more can be composted in a municipal program including beef, chicken, fish, shellfish, bones, yogurt and cheese, lunch meats, casseroles, rice, grains, bread, pasta, tea bags, coffee filters, toilet paper, paper towels, wooden chopsticks, compostable containers from restaurant takeout, cut flowers, and leftover, spoiled and expired food.

4. It would be hard to manage.

As the 17 municipalities already participating in food-scraps composting can attest, this program isn’t hard. It fits seamlessly within our current waste structure in Pelham. We simply divert food from one bin to another. The food is dropped off at the municipal collection site (which would only take up two to four car spaces total) or it’s picked up at your home, just like your trash. Easy.

Ardsley, Scarsdale, Rye, the Town of Mamaroneck, Larchmont, the Village of Mamaroneck, Greenburgh, Bedford, Dobbs Ferry, Hastings, Irvington, New Castle, Pound Ridge, Rye Brook, Tarrytown, Sleepy Hollow, Pleasantville and Mt. Kisco have implemented food-scraps programs. Lewisboro, Tuckahoe and the Town of Ossining are launching programs in January 2020. New York State just passed a law requiring large producers of food waste to divert edible food and compost the rest. Food-scraps composting has arrived in New York, and it will only accelerate.

The Pelhams are missing the opportunity to be leaders on this issue. If you would like to participate in a food-scraps program in Pelham, please fill out this survey:

Deborah Winstead

14 Witherbee Ave.