by Mary Morgan

Seven people sent me the January 1st New York Times article “How Central Ohio Got People to Eat Their Leftovers”. 

It’s the story of a mom reaching into the back of her fridge to pull out a leftover dinner, stuffed peppers, and scraping it into the garbage. Watching, her 10-year-old daughter burst into tears. The 4th grader had learned about the impact of food waste on the planet. That people go hungry. That US households waste nearly a third of the food we buy. She learned that when food rots in landfills it generates methane, a greenhouse gas (GHG) far more potent than carbon dioxide. That our food waste is responsible for twice as many GHG emissions as commercial aviation. Seeing her own mother toss one of her favorite meals in the trash brought all this home. 

The family vowed to do better. This, it turns out, can save them a ton of money. The average family in central Ohio spends $1,500 each year on food they don’t eat, and tons on gas to transport waste “away.”  

January Mini-Summit

After the seventh person emailed me this article, I called Mark. 

“Yup” he said. “Time to have a mini-summit to share best practices for all the good things happening on the East End involving food-waste-diversion-to-compost.”  

Mark Haubner, co-chair of Rivehead’s Environmental Advisory Committee, has taken a lead in two pilot programs, Southold and Riverhead, to prove that people are willing to divert their food waste away from the landfill. 

“What I learned from the Riverhead pilot,” said Mark “is that people here know the value of compost. They want a place to take their food scraps to be repurposed into compost.”

Black gold is its other name, and it is a powerful way of enriching soil. Farmers in California are relying on compost for its water retention capacity, lowering the need for irrigation. The EPA calls it a best practice for stormwater runoff. That’s good news for our Peconics, where we love to swim, sail, fish and shellfish, where it serves as the resource for our restaurant-second-home-tourism economy. 

Peconic Bioregion Alliance

 “What’s the big picture?” asked Mark at our Food Scraps Diversion to Compost Mini-Summit Jan. 20 with key people from our five towns. What if we could divert, recover and reuse 100 percent of food scraps, creating compost to return to our soils? Why not start with households, whose food scraps are 70 percent of the food waste stream? Mark offered a goal: to reduce food waste from our waste streams 50 percent by 2025 and 100 percent by 2030.  

Why not a Peconic Bioregion Alliance, someone suggested, of all of us – to help advance a community engagement strategy, to help the public “get it” that food-scraps-diversion-to-compost is a huge climate solution, saves tons of money, and helps our region. 

Our towns are facing higher trucking costs when Long Island landfills reach capacity in June of 2024. Our state is mandating all towns reduce greehouse gases 40 percent by 2030. 

Household scraps are the “low hanging fruit,” one DEC official has said, with full diversion counting toward one-third of that mandate. And the state has money to help with this.

There is no “one size fits all” said Mark. Every community might have their own solution, and we can all share what works. 

Pilots in the Works

In Riverhead, the Environmental Advisory Committee ran a successful 3-month pilot food scrap collection program with 12 households, two restaurants and two farm sites. They plan to scale up and also apply for Climate Smart Communities points, and possible funds. For info, email Mark Haubner at mhaubner2@gmail.com

Riverhead’s pilot was based on an earlier success in Southold, where 30 families over 30 days separated their food scraps into green buckets, bringing them to the town transfer station. Three volunteers then took the buckets to a nearby farm compost site, all told diverting half a ton of food scraps. Info: Mary Morgan mcfm.morgan@gmail.com

Hampton Bays-based Ecological Cultural Initiative (ECI) offers a Community Composting Program to its membership as part of their Zero Waste Initiative. You pay for a bucket and access to their drop off site at The Good Ground Heritage Garden at St. Joseph Villa. To learn more: eciny.org

On Shelter Island, Sylvester Manor also offers a food waste collection program for their CSA members, to benefit the farm compost operations. Contact: csa@sylvestermanor.org.

In East Hampton, discussions are underway with local organizations such as ChangeHampton and ReWild Long Island East regarding a community-supported compost pilot at a local farm, a summer internship for local students, and a possible region-wide countertop composter pilot.

Stay tuned! We will be covering each initiative closely.


Former Locavore, now a Climatarian, also a sailor and beachcomber Mary Morgan’s mother’s family has lived in East Hampton for 12 generations farming and fishing. Her grandfather ran a dairy on the Fireplace Road family farm. 

Mary lives in Orient with her husband Tom, a naturalist and mushroom forager.  They are early founders of the local chapter Slow Food East End started in 2004. Two years ago Mary co-founded a grassroots East End effort inspired by the climate science analysis of Project Drawdown’s 100 solutions to reverse global warming, and dedicated to local climate solutions. 

East End Beacon
The East End Beacon is your guide to social and environmental issues, arts & culture on the East End of Long Island.

One thought on “Climate Local Now: How We Get East Enders to Eat Leftovers

  1. The title of this is misleading. I would love to see an article that really does address the title of this one: “How We Get East Enders To Eat Leftovers.”

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