by Mark Haubner
There was a time when the Men of Science (no women?!) became alchemists and worked feverishly trying to turn lead into gold.
But today, our Women and Men of Science are agronomists and biologists and everything else, and we have found a way to turn green to gold. Our food waste (also known as Vegetative Organics) can be cycled back into our soils in a regenerative manner, with great impact.
Food waste as compost increases concentrations of Organic Matter, a quantity easily measured by our scientists. Because of the high water content of food waste (from 2 percent in an almond to 95 percent in a watermelon) this adds to the moisture content of the receiving soil and reduces the need for irrigation, increases rainwater absorption and reduces runoff.
Project Drawdown provides us with scientific guidance on the subject, from the perspective of our international food systems right on down to our local efforts—at home, in the community and in our government.
I got an email from a young woman, Brianne, who had picked her target well: the North Fork Environmental Council. She had also framed her message clearly: I work at Lucharito’s and would like to see our kitchen food scraps go to compost somewhere.
Drawdown East End had already run two successful Residential Food Waste Diversion and Food Waste Reduction programs in 2020 in the Town of Southold and was ready to start a pilot program moving our restaurants’ food waste to a farm to create compost. Our earlier ally, Peter Treiber of Treiber Farm, said yes instantly and we were on our way.
We are in the midst of a Solid Waste crisis on Long island, with the last two landfills closing within two years. The high water content of food waste prevents it from being incinerated, and we are tasked with getting 30 percent of the island’s solid waste stream into a circular system where it is not wasted, but becomes a benefit to us all.
The other great benefit is that because food waste turns to methane, we are also avoiding putting a very potent greenhouse gas into the air at a ratio of two to one! Each of us is throwing away half a pound of food every day (on average), so with 150,000 people in the Peconic Bioregion the numbers are staggering. But herein lies the opportunity to reduce our emissions by millions of tons and regenerate our soil at the same time.
Our thought is this—if we increase the value of our farms’ soil, we increase the value of the food that is grown. If we increase the value of our food, we will all enjoy better health, and if we in the Peconic Bioregion become known for the highest-value food on Long Island, we will all reap the rewards from a thriving economy as well.
The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation is very concerned that we protect the water in our sole-source aquifer. So are we. The DEC created the Food Scraps Law which will go into effect in a few months and requires that large-scale generators of food waste (restaurants, grocery stores) first donate their edible food to people in need.
The second step is to take the remaining food waste and feed it to something like a regional Anaerobic Digester, which will take the methane produced and create biofuel, which can be used in trucks or fed into the natural gas grid.
But the other option is to gather the food waste and compost it. Our mission at Drawdown East End is to divert 100 percent of the food waste generated in all sectors (Residential, Commercial, Institutional, Governance) in the Peconic Bioregion and bring it right back into our soil—your yard, your neighborhood, your municipality, or businesses which use a low-tech biodigester to create salable organic compost for us to use on our own properties and our farms.
Aggressive? Yes. Ambitious? Yes. Achievable? Yes. Necessary? Absolutely. We would like Suffolk County to be out in front of all the DEC regulations which are coming down the pike—for hospitals, schools, small businesses and yes, households. We have set trends and records before—banning DDT and phosphates and single-use plastics—and it is time we do this again, right now.
We would love to hear from people who want to be involved, no matter how small the effort may seem (it all adds up!)—from farmers who want to enrich their soil, to restaurateurs who want to become a part of the growing list of businesses wanting to contribute to the wellbeing of the Peconic Bioregion—and people just like you.
Simply email us at Mary.DrawdownEastEnd@gmail.com to get involved, just like Brianne did when she contacted the NFEC!
We can create one aspect of a life-affirming culture right here by turning green to gold, indeed. It’s time.
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 6 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.