The Food UpCycle Project
Diverting materials from getting to landfill by creating secondary value in a cyclical system.
The Food UpCycle Project is based in local community, bringing partners to collaborate, share knowledge, resources and technology. By sharing location and investments the operational cost is reduced and there is a greater opportunity for positive impact.
Lead Applicant Organization Name
Lead Applicant Organization Type
Small company (under 50 employees)
If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.
Local Farmers - Brooklyn Grange, Grow NYC
Small companies - Ecologic, Common Ground, Grounded, Cara Marie Piazza, Smallhold
Small NGO - ReThink Food, BK Rot, The Hope Foundation, Defy, Billion Oyster Project
Research institution Institute of Public Knowledge
Government Department of Sanitation, Department of Transportation, RNDC, EPA, Parks Department
How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?
Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?
New York City
Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?
Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?
Brooklyn - Navy Yard
What country is your selected Place located in?
Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.
We both grew up outside of New York but have lived and worked in New York City for a number of years and consider the city our home. We feel the outside perspective has allowed us to appreciate all the city has to offer but also to see its shortcomings and want to help make it a better place.
Our experience in the hospitality industry has also been very enlightening in regards to food culture, food inequality, waste practices and the overall ignorance around the food system and its challenges. Upon opening Lighthouse in 2010, we wanted to prove that running a socially and environmentally responsible business, connected to its community, is economically viable in New York City. With this goal in mind, we explored ways to divert organics from landfill, to limit our carbon footprint, pollution and toxicity and to be fair and just employers. By creating an environment that is open and accessible to everyone, we gained the support of the local community which helped grow our sustainable practices. These partnerships became the foundation for this project.
We are interested in contributing and shifting the current cultural paradigm. We think New York City can change course and become sustainable and more egalitarian. It is our hope that our project can help strengthen the community while creating economic opportunity. We would love to see more people eat seasonal and local food, for renewables to be the predominant source of energy, and a more transparent waste stream.
We understand that time is pressing and that in order to change course, immediate action is necessary. From a governmental and cultural perspective there is a growing demand for new solutions. We feel that New York is poised and ready for a change. Previous and current city administrations have shown commitment to incentivise sustainable practices (as detailed in the ONENYC plan)
As urbanization continues to grow, a new model is required and NYC would be the perfect place to start.
Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.
New York City (NYC) is one of the most dense and diverse cities in the world with 26,403 people per square mile (10,194/km²) and over 800 languages spoken. The city is made of 5 boroughs; Manhattan, Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn and Staten Island connected by one of the largest subway systems in the world with 4.3 million commuters daily. The city is famous for its skyline and skyscrapers, most notably the Empire State Building but is lacking in green spaces with the exception of Central Park covering 843 acres (3.41 km2) in the middle of Manhattan. New York City exists at the conversions of the Hudson and East Rivers and historically was once known as the oyster capital of the world.
It is as culturally diverse as it is economically. Home to some of the richest people in the world but also has a large population struggling to make ends meet. A major financial center in the US, New York is home to the US stock exchange market and the famous Broadway theatres.
It is also famous for its food and an abundance of restaurants. One can enjoy cuisines from every corner of the world within a few miles radius or a few stops on the train. Unfortunately food deserts are also prevalent and a high percentage of the population is food insecure. (More than 1.2 million New York City residents 14.4 percent are food insecure.)
One of the most progressive cities in the US, NYC passed local legislation that is ahead of the national trend (for example The Climate Mobilization Act). The current city administration is focused on diminishing the threats of climate change and is looking to incorporate new technology, renewable energy and cutting edge solutions to reverse damages and protect the shoreline.
One of the downsizes of the city is the amount of trash it creates that can be found on the curb of the city sidewalks. Approximately 12,000 tons of trash are produced daily, hauled to other states at a cost nearing 1.6 billions dollars yearly. The restaurant industry in NYC alone, generates close to half a million tons of food waste per year.
NYC is known for its water quality flowing from the NY watershed at a billion gallons per day. It is one of only 5 cities in the US that do not filter their water and prides itself on protecting its natural resources.
New York City is full of contradictions and challenges, it is these characteristics that solidify our opinion that NYC is a great launch pad for the project and can help promote a systematic change, a culture shift and offer an optimistic narrative as a leader in the sustainable movement.
If you can make it here, you can make it everywhere!
What is the approximate size of your Place, in square kilometers? (New question, not required)
What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?
Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.
Unseasonal and severe weather conditions interrupt natural patterns, cause an imbalance in local ecosystems and destroy infrastructure. Hunt’s Point, located on the East River and responsible for 50% of New York City’s food supply is in danger of flooding and complete destruction.
Pollution caused by sewage overflows, runoff and garbage impacts our waterways, soil and air quality. Plastic will outnumber fish in our oceans and sea creatures who ingest it, eventually impacting the entire food pyramid, including humans.
Population density is one of the biggest food system challenges NYC faces it is expected to reach 9.8 billion by 2050. Impacting pollution, carbon footprint, nutrition, energy use and puts a strain on natural resour, making farming land more scarce as urbanization and housing grow.
Income inequality and poverty are the main reason for food insecurity. New York City’s 8.5 million residents spend $30 billion a year on food, yet city residents suffer from both hunger and health problems. There is also an education gap regarding nutrition and a healthy diet.
Globalization and Consumerism culture has influenced our modern food system. Consumers expect food to be made faster and cheaper, which stands in opposition to a balanced food system and creates an abundance of packaging and waste. Cooking and eating has become less of a social act contributing to the weakening of the social fabric of communities as well as loss of knowledge of cooking traditions.
NYC food and environment policy is outdated inadequate. There has not been enough regulation or taxation of unsustainable practices that pollute natural resources and pose health risks.
The current role technology plays in the economic system is to expedite processes and improve efficiency. Focusing on expanding consumerism and not enough on finding sustainable solutions and has enabled the market to follow cheap labor, lower safety standards and environmental regulations. Though it has the power to connect, technology has mostly weakened community ties and isolated us. Technology is evolving so rapidly with little consideration for circular design, thus becoming obsolete at a faster rate than ever, contributing to material waste and landfill.
When imagining the reality we will be living in 2050, the picture we see in front of our eyes is rather bleak. The stressors on the environment and natural resources only seem to increase and escalate.
Farming trends continue to favor unsustainable practices like monocropping, fertilizing and extensive use of pesticides that contaminate and pollute making resources more scarce.
In an attempt to feed a growing population manufactured and processed food becomes even more prevalent at the high cost of negatively impacting public health.
Food companies are manipulating our food system to provide cheap calories but also trying to follow consumer trends. In a food system where most of the food is manufactured, technology is the main resource often replacing labor, leaving no room for independent, local operations and contributing to income and access inequality. Environmental challenges and damages will only compound.
Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.
The Food Upcycle Project is targeting many of the current and future challenges mainly by creating an infrastructure for local communities to upcycle and recycle organic and inorganic waste and surplus.
By diverting waste from landfill we are protecting our soil, air and water from toxins. By using renewable energy we are guaranteeing abundant clean energy that has no negative impact on the environment. By teaching people how to cook and grow their own food, we provide education about agriculture and healthy eating for the individual and the planet. We think this modular system can help remediate the serious threats from climate change and pollution while paving the road to future solutions and empowering the local community to take action and drive change. Our hope is that we inspire every neighborhood in every city to build a local station.
We believe that a community driven solution with a broader set of values benefecting a diverse population is both resilient and replicable and has the ability to drive real change. Extensive research shows that the most influential factor in behavior and behavior change is peer pressure and conformity, by engaging different players and creating value for all of them we believe we can shift the culture to make communities more aware and collaborative.
The modularity of the project also allows for and incentivizes new technology to experiment with different uses of waste. There is a growing trend and economic value in companies finding new ways to find new life for our waste, extracting energy or other secondary uses. This community-based approach of finding solutions allows for local start-ups and businesses to experiment with waste specific to that area and to the needs of the community. This quality will enrich and make the hub more efficient and relevant.
We plan in the future to create an open source online platform where different community waste hubs can share new ways of finding circular and secondary value for waste, benefacting even rural and developing communities that may not have the economic or technological capacity for sustained and novel experimentation but have best practices in regards to waste and finding ways of closing loops by incorporating biomimicry. The open source platform will allow the whole system of hubs to become smarter and more efficient over time as well as dynamic as our world and our waste change.
High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.
The Food Upcycle Project being rooted in the community and comprised of local organizations has the potential of shifting reality and deeply changing the lives of local residents. Our hope is to create value via education, job creation and innovation.
By growing some produce in the station we hope to inspire everyone to grow a portion of their food at home, by working and collaborating with farmers we will be creating strong networks, encouraging seasonal and local diets and extend support to local farmers.
By providing nutrition and cooking education we will empower people to shop locally, plan their meals to maximize produce and minimize waste, cook at home and even become a part of the hospitality industry.
The station will provide a range of employment opportunities (driving, gardening, cooking, teaching, enovating etc. ) maintaining diversity and accessibility.
We believe that creating The Food Upcycle Project hubs around the world will have an enormous impact by invigorating regenerative-local economy that is aligned with the health of the community and the planet.
Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?
The Food UpCycle Project partners. Rethink Food - collects food excess, provides meals for food insecure population and education. The Cork Upcycle Project - cork collection and upcycle to products. Billion Oyster Project - collects oyster shells, cleans NYC harbor. Grow NYC - local farmers and growers Grounded - collecting coffee grounds Smallhold - mushroom farming Ecorich - compost machine Ecologic - green cleaning supply Home biogas - converting organic waste to energy
Structurally, the Food Upcycle Station is divided into sections where different operations will process food and materials in various ways and create secondary value for its community instead of going to landfill.
The station is modular and comprised of different partners which makes it both flexible and resilient. It is designed to be replicated in different environments as well as shift and grow with changes in the economy, new technological advancements and local challenges. Food excess and organic waste are sorted at the participating restaurants and food operations in color coded bins, collected by small electric trucks and transported locally to the Food Upcycle Station. Once at the station, the color-coded bins are diverted to appropriate partners.
Food appropriate for human consumption is cooked in a kitchen onsite (REthink Food) and served in the cafeteria providing healthy meals to employees and communities with food insecurity. REthink Food is a nonprofit organization that uses surplus food to feed the hungry, helping solve both issues of food waste and food insecurity. The founders worked for years in the hospitality industry and experienced firsthand the amount of nutritious food restaurants throw out on a daily basis.
The cafeteria kitchen within the Food Upcycle project will also double as a training platform for skill building and cooking classes for the community, and surrounding communities that would benefit from accessible education.
Here are a few more examples of our partnerships and their contribution.
The cooking fuel will be converted from organic matter using existing technology producing biogas and a potent fertilizer.
Oyster shells are collected and cleaned by The Billion Oyster Project in order to restore oyster reefs in the New York Harbor. Oysters have a remarkable ability to filter nitrogen pollution from water as they eat and also protect New York City from storm damage by softening the impact of large waves and storm surges, thus reducing the effects of flooding and erosion.
Coffee grinds will be used in cosmetic products as well as growing substeight for mushrooms via Smallhold.
Food scraps that cannot be utilized for other purposes will get composted and distributed to farms, local gardens and individuals.
Non-toxic sanitizer/disinfectant and a mild detergent generated by ECA (Electrical Chemical Activation technology) will be provided to all members and partners of the station for cleaning purposes and get distributed as part of the collection program.
The station and vehicles will be powered by solar energy, collected via solar panels.
Rooftops and small gardens will be used to supplement our kitchens. These provide rainwater buffer, purify the air, regulate temperature, save energy and yield vegetables and herbs for the cafeteria.
We want to encourage collaboration with artists and start ups to use food scraps and waste in new ways.
Currently we partner with a few artists who use our avocado and onion skins, carrot and beet tops as dyes. We would love to open up this project to other creatives to experiment with other methods.
The Food UpCycle Project was conceived as a result of years of building a network of partners that utilize Lighthouse’s ‘waste’. As we explored ways to divert even more waste and learned about new advances in technology, the idea of communal ownership emerged. A centralized hub could afford to invest in new technology to be able to process a variety and volume of materials at a lower cost and include more potential community partners. Our system will use the current carting model but improve upon it by separating the waste stream at the source in order to extract nutrition from food scraps and find secondary and circular value of materials inspired by the Cradle-to-Cradle philosophy.
The Food UpCycle Project embodies human-centered design, business stability and longevity, and embraces diversity through our partnerships. It is designed to inspire communication and collaboration and to help create strong networks in communities. We envision The Food UpCycle Project as a local community center powered by renewable energy that collects and processes food, organic matter and material excess, while creating value for the local community by providing education, reducing pollution and methane production, offsetting carbon footprint, creating jobs and green spaces.
One of the advantages of the station is the modular and collaborative design, which promotes collective use of space and resources, but also makes for a stable business. Restaurants currently pay a premium for private companies to remove waste. Due to the model of community ownership we aim to offer a neutral cost option.
The Food Upcycle Project is aligned with New York City goals described in OneNYC 2050 plan
to increase local procurement for all city funded meals, provide nutrition education and more accessibility to healthy food, especially to populations with food insecurity and reduce NYC’s residential and commercial waste to zero.
The project also aims to help change the behavior and actions of every citizen of New York City starting by creating awareness around where their trash ends up while creating an alternative solution to the problem. We need immediate action to curb waste production and we know our project can achieve this, initially at least, with food waste.
We believe this community owned model is more attractive and will expedite the expansion of this idea.
How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?