The Ulster County Legislature has announced the passage of the Ulster County Food Waste Prevention and Recovery Act to implement sustainable food waste diversion and composting requirements for large food waste generators. This law is intended to prevent food waste, rescue surplus wholesome food for those in need, and direct any remaining food waste material for animal feed or composting.
“Ulster County was one of the first counties in New York State to receive Climate Smart certification, and continues making it a priority to increase awareness and provide education regarding environmental health, “said Chairwoman Tracey Bartels.
This Local Law is more far reaching than the “New York State Food Donation and Food Scrap Recycling Act” signed by Governor Andrew Cuomo earlier this year and scheduled to take effect January 1, 2022. The State Law only applies to producers of 2-tons or more of food waste week and exempts schools, hospitals and nursing homes.
The Ulster County Food Waste Prevention and Recovery Act is slated to begin July 1, 2020, 1 1/2 years sooner than the NY State law. The county law applies to the same 2-ton a week or more food waste generators but captures smaller waste producers over the next 3 years and by Jan 1, 2023 will cover generators of a half-ton of food scraps per week. Unlike the State law, the Ulster County law does not exempt schools, hospitals or nursing homes.
Legislator Manna Jo Greene spearheaded this effort with the Food Waste Composting Working Group and stakeholders for several months. These stakeholders included haulers, commercial composting facilities, supermarkets, schools, health care facilities and others.
According to Greene, Ulster County has 25 to 30 facilities that produce 2-tons or more of food waste a week and several of them along with many smaller facilities are already actively engaged in food waste diversion.
“I was pleased to learn that so much food and organic waste is already being successfully diverted by conscientious businesses throughout Ulster County. Many schools and private individuals have well established food diversion and composting underway.” said Greene. “These successful operations can serve as a model to others who want to get started.”
Greene explained that good nutritious food is first diverted to feed the hungry. If that it is not possible or appropriate for the food waste, it then goes to feed livestock or to be composted. She praised the Ulster County Resource Recovery Agency (UCRRA) and other local and commercial composting operators for proactively working with business to help them manage food waste, train staff and develop infrastructure.
Studies indicate that overall, 40 percent of food in this country is wasted. At the same time, nearly 2.5 million New Yorkers struggle to have enough to eat. Diverting food to feed the hungry is the most important component of this law.
Legislator Laura Petit who manages the New Paltz Food Recovery Program, a hub of the Ulster County Food Insecurity Collaborative, distributes tons of fresh produce, day-old-breads and pastries, canned goods to 16 organizations including FAMILY, local food pantries, churches and shelters.
“In a world of abundance and with all our local resources, no one should go to bed hungry,” said Petit.
Legislator Herbert Litts acknowledged that using food scraps to feed livestock and composting have always been a key components of a successful farm operation.
“On a farm, we don’t throw anything away. We always find another use for it and organic material is no exception, “said Litts, a farmer in Highland, whose family has been farming in the Hudson Valley for generations.
Spent grain makes up about 85 percent of the byproduct from beer production or the equivalent of a pound or more per six pack. Litts uses tons of spent grain from several local breweries every week along with other food stuffs to supplement feed for livestock and says most farmers routinely make and use their own compost.
It is estimated that statewide, food waste makes up 18 percent of our solid waste stream. Unfortunately, the vast majority of this food is disposed of in landfills where it breaks down and releases methane, a potent greenhouse gas.
Further, when we waste food, we waste all the energy, water, and labor it takes to get that food on our plates. In fact, if global food waste were a country, it would be the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases after the United States and China.
Greene estimates that more than 10,000 tons of food waste per year will be diverted when the law is fully implemented in 2023.
“I commend Legislator Greene and the Food Waste Composting Working Group who worked tirelessly to bring this important legislation forward,” said Bartels. “Ulster County residents have embraced these incremental changes and are asking us to do more to develop sustainable solutions to protect Ulster County’s future”