Pictured Above: What’s in your fridge? Food waste is a top contributor to greenhouse gases.
After working for several months on Paul Hawken’s book, “Drawdown,” five of us piled into a friend’s Tesla to spend three days at a Drawdown conference at Penn State. It was September of 2019 and I had to check my notes to make sure it was less than three years ago because of the amount of work Drawdown East End has done since then.
Based on the scientific work given to us by some 200 researchers and graduate students, we chose Food Waste Reduction and Diversion as our most impactful project. Several surveys, a focus group and a thousand emails between us later, we were partnering with the Town of Southold’s Solid Waste Coordinator, Jim Bunchuck, and found ourselves at the transfer station every single day for 30 days weighing green buckets of residential food scraps. It was February and the weather was kind to us as we drove a dozen buckets a day to Treiber Farm to ensure that this ‘green gold’ went back into the soil where it belongs, creating rich compost for the benefit of all.
How Important Is It?
During our time researching the many aspects of food and its production, transport, storage and distribution, one devastating figure drove us the hardest: 30 percent of food in our homes is wasted, destined for an incinerator on Long Island or being trucked to open pit landfills in Ohio and Pennsylvania, as far as 350 miles away. Methane is the polluting gas given off by food scraps when they’re simply buried or burned. Bringing food waste to zero is one of the most impactful actions we can take at every level of our society — more so than a lot of clean energy solutions, which seem so much trendier. Whether in our homes, restaurants, processing plants, hospitals, nursing homes or schools (where 50 percent of the solid waste produced is food waste!), we can make substantial reductions in greenhouse gases simply by wasting less food.
We then created an educational webinar focused on Reducing Food Waste at home. If it’s buying just what we need by spending 20 minutes making a list for the coming week’s meals at home, cooking enough for just the meal of the day or eating everything we make, that 30 percent food waste drops dramatically.
And here we are, only 24 months later, weaving this work into the New York State Department of Environmental Climate Smart Communities program.
What’s the DEC Got To Do With It?
Cornell University gave a full-day webinar back in 2020 on all things food, and their food service managers said that they were using “Drawdown” as their guide for all their food service programs — from growing fruits and vegetables organically on their on-campus farm to providing education about the value of both vegetarian and vegan diets to creating amazingly creative and tasty dishes, which were culturally derived and wrapped into their culinary arts programs. The program included education and awareness, which prompted people to take less, eat what they took and separate their food scraps, which, of course, were used immediately as compost at their farm.
Cycle completed, the DEC has created incentives for our communities to become engaged and participate at the simplest level to achieve both diversion and reduction of food waste. The Climate Smart Communities program addresses direct energy consumption, emissions and efficiencies, building heating and cooling, transportation and more, but Food Waste Reduction is becoming a highly achievable lever for the average person to reduce our solid waste emissions, and it reduces food insecurity among our neighbors as well.
Partnerships and Cooperation Are Key
The Town of Riverhead resolved to be a Climate Smart Community in 2019 and with both the Engineering Department (and others) and the Environmental Advisory Committee working on reducing energy consumption, achieving emissions reduction and having an eye on the future, they have gotten 80 points toward the 120 points necessary for Bronze Certification. The next 40 points will come from a dozen municipal and community-based efforts, which will engage every citizen. Our Civic Associations and the North Fork Environmental Council are already actively involved in these efforts, and we are seeing a level of engagement between our town departments (Engineering, Parks & Recreation, Planning and more) that is very refreshing.
Riverhead is also providing guidance and encouragement to the Town of Southold, which still needs an ‘External Green Team’ of volunteer citizens to bring them into Climate Smart Communities action (for more information on how to get involved with this effort, email email@example.com. We are grateful to three towns of the Peconic Bioregion and others throughout New York State for wholeheartedly guiding us for the last three years. With Southampton Town and Suffolk County having achieved Silver Certification, we have role models in our backyard.
The goal for our combined teams of “Drawdown” and our municipal Climate Smart Communities teams is simple: to return all of the food scraps we generate back to one of our most important resources — our soils. Cycle complete, we will all see the benefits of compost to create healthy soil, healthy food and healthy people. Climate Smart? You bet we are.
Mark Haubner has been recycling newspaper since 1965, and not seeing his example being followed by everyone on the planet, started learning Science Communication in earnest about six years ago. He got a Certificate in Sustainability and Behavior Change from the University of California at San Diego (the daily commute was grueling) and now writes Community Based Social Marketing programs for the various nonprofits with which he is involved.
Climate Local Now is a partnership between the East End Beacon and Drawdown East End, whose mission is to inspire local solutions to reverse global warming. | DrawdownEastEnd.org