The new “food recycling” program will call for the construction of a composting facility in the New York region to take 100,000 tons of food waste a year — just one tenth of the total one million pounds created by New York residents annually. Compost will be turned into biogas, with the express purpose of helping the city lower its electric bill.
The launch of the program will be voluntary, and city officials estimate that 150,000 homes will take part, along with 600 schools and 100 high-rise buildings, the New York Times reports. By 2015 or 2016, however, officials hope to have the whole city on board.
The program will be hugely beneficial for New Yorkers’ wallets. Just days ago, a report found that Americans throw out 40 percent of their food. That waste amounts to $400 per person annually.
Additionally, in 2012, the New York Citizens Budget Commission estimated that (PDF) New York would spend “$2 billion in tax dollars throwing out its garbage,” and about $300 million of that was on the process of disposing of the waste. Much of New York’s garbage is shipped out-of-state to landfills in Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Virginia. The Commission estimates that it cost taxpayers “$95 per ton for the three million tons the City exports to landfills,” meaning that New Yorkers are not just wasting money on food, they’re also wasting money on throwing it out.
The new program, however, will actually bring down costs of transporting waste by bringing a composting facility to the area. At the same time, by harnessing biofuels, it will introduce more sustainable and cheaper energy: Rotting food at landfills emit 17 percent of the total methane produced by the US. That methane goes up into the atmosphere and acts as one of the most potent greenhouse gases.
The plan to harness the decomposition process of New Yorkers’ food waste and turn it into energy will kill two birds with one stone. Not only will energy be created from an otherwise useless byproduct of decomposition, but that methane will no longer be contributing to global climate change.
Over time, composting plants have become more widespread. Portland, Oregon, just recently reduced its number of garbage collection days down to two in hopes of encouraging composting and recycling. San Francisco is one of the leaders of curbside composting, an approach that now has the participation of over 100 cities. Even the airline Jet Blue announced last month that it would be piloting a composting plan in New York’s JFK Airport. Indeed, the industry is growing so quickly that compost plant workers are facing dangerous conditions thanks to a lack of oversight.
But New York’s participation in a composting program might be able to bring the practice into the mainstream. Composting is becoming more popular in other countries, and there’s good reason to think it could, and should, catch on here, too.