With Riverhead Residential Program, Food Scrap Composting is Gaining Steam

Pictured Above: Beth Fiteni (left) was the first to add her food scraps to the Riverhead Town compost program, as Greater Calverton Civic Association President Toqui Terchun and Judy Greco of the Long Island Organics Council looked on.

Riverhead Town is embarking this month on the East End’s first town-wide food scrap composting program, at a time when how we handle our waste has become critical to the future of the region.

After a successful 90-day pilot program for Calverton residents last fall, the new program has gone town-wide with help from the Long Island Organics Council and the non-profit Green Inside and Out, which is using a $20,000 grant from the New York State Pollution Prevention Institute for the project.

The food scrap drop-off site is now open just inside the gate at the town’s yard waste facility at 532 Young’s Avenue in Calverton, which is open Thursdays through Mondays from 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

“This program is the first of its kind on Long Island,” said Long Island Organics Council founder Judy Greco at a May 11 ribbon-cutting for the drop-off site. Ms. Greco said 30 percent of our waste is food scraps, most of which are now being incinerated. She added that many organic farmers on Long Island now buy compost from out of state, which must be trucked to Long Island at great expense. A local source, she said, would be a boon to them.

Green Inside and Out Director Beth Fiteni said many volunteers have been working on food scrap composting efforts throughout the East End, forming the Peconic Bioregion Alliance, which held a mini-summit on getting the five East End towns on board with food scrap composting projects at the Shelter Island Library this winter.

“Volunteers put in so many hours of effort,” said Ms. Fiteni, thanking Mark Haubner of Riverhead Town Environmental Advisory Committee and the North Fork Environmental Council for his leadership.

The volunteers and non-profits have been working with Riverhead’s Engineering Department on the food scrap program. 

Riverhead Town Engineer Drew Dillingham said the tip carts that residents will fill with food compost will be taken to the top of the town’s hills of yard waste, where the food scraps will be spread out and covered with leaves and worked into the town’s yard waste compost.

He added that the compost produced would be used on town facilities and in the future could be given to residents and sold in bulk.

There are a few rules about what can be put into the food scrap composting containers, which are available for sale at town facilities for $10 for a small countertop container or $25 for a larger under-sink container. No meat or dairy products or oils or greases can be put in the bins, and neither can diapers, food containers or pet waste. 

Breads, pastas, grains, eggshells, coffee grounds, cut flowers and fruit and vegetable scraps can be composted.

“Food waste is such a big problem,” said Suffolk County Legislator Al Krupski, a Cutchogue farmer who is currently running for Southold Town Supervisor, at the ribbon-cutting. “This means less trucks on the road, and healthier soil for agricultural land.”

He added that he believes such a program would be successful in Southold, where, unlike in Riverhead, which has curbside garbage pickup, most residents “self haul” their waste to the town’s transfer station in Cutchogue. Southold already has a successful yard waste composting program onsite, where residents can get up to 500 pounds of compost for free per year, and anyone can buy additional compost for a small fee.

Food scrap composting isn’t new to Southold — Thirty families participated in a month-long pilot food scrap composting program sponsored by Southold Town in 2020. They brought a total of 1,000 pounds of food waste to the town transfer station, which was later composted by Trieber Farms in Peconic.

Riverhead Town Councilman Tim Hubbard, who is running for Town Supervisor, said at the May 11 press briefing that he won’t be participating in the program because he already composts his food scraps for his home vegetable garden. But he does believe the program will be a boon for residents who don’t have the space or time to do their own composting.

“I hope we can prove to residents that this is the right thing to do,” he said, adding that the town is lucky to have Mark Haubner as a resident. Mr. Haubner was unable to attend the press briefing.

“Mark was a big push behind this,” said Mr. Hubbard. “This is going to be a tremendous program.”

Mary Morgan and Mark Haubner (who are both Climate Local Now columnists for The Beacon) have been leading the drive for food scrap composting programs throughout the region. They presented ideas for a food scrap composting program to the East Hampton Town Board at its May 9 work session.

East Hampton is planning to embark on a similar effort there, and residents who are interested can email easthamptoncompost@gmail.com for more information.

More information on Riverhead’s program is online here.

Beth Young

Beth Young has been covering the East End since the 1990s. In her spare time, she runs around the block, tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

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