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Organic Food Waste in Brooklyn Part 0

How does a city deal with waste from breweries, cafes, and wineries? This is an introduction to an inspiration series on Brooklyn businesses

Photo of Ashwin Goutham Gopi
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Recently we spoke to a few representatives of the New York Department of Sanitation at one of their recycling facilities in Sunset Park, Brooklyn NY. We wanted to learn more about their 0X30 initiative which aims at ensuring that New York City contributes zero waste to landfills by 2030. This initiative considers the city, residents, businesses, schools and nonprofits as its primary stakeholders. Their strategy to reduce waste involves outreach, awareness, and redesign of operations. The plan to reduce commercial waste disposal will include conducting a comprehensive study of commercial waste collection zones, encouraging periodic waste audits for large commercial buildings, creating a zero waste challenge program for large commercial waste generators, revising the commercial recycling rules to make recycling easier for businesses, and requiring all food service establishments to source-separate food waste.

Logo
A truck bearing the 0x30 logo

Their basic assumption is that nothing is waste - organic waste can be composted, and metal, glass, textile, paper or plastics can be recycled or reused. This belief drives their new operations, which includes curbside organics collection, a pilot curbside textile collection program in four community districts, the launch the first 100 Zero Waste Schools, and the rollout of a recycling service to all NYCHA residents. Their outreach programs include spreading awareness about reducing waste, inviting residents to join the composting programs, and by urging them to properly separate and label their trash. They are also creating multiple awareness programs aimed at businesses to reduce waste through various cost-saving mechanisms.

Scenes from the recycling plant
Conveyer belts leading to the sorting area


Last year, the city announced a proposal to require large-scale commercial food establishments to separate organic waste. The establishments involved in this program include food service establishments in hotels, arenas and stadiums, and food manufacturers and wholesalers. Businesses covered by this proposal would be given the option to arrange for collection by a private carter, transport organic waste themselves, or process the material on site. Suitable processing methods include composting, aerobic or anaerobic digestion, or any other method approved by rule by the Department of Sanitation. Once in place, it would take effect in six months after they are adopted, giving businesses a six-month grace period before any fines are imposed. Though currently this only applies to large businesses, it is set to expand to smaller food businesses by 2017.

The implications are that the infrastructure demand will create a strain on the city as they try to meet their zero waste goals. These demands will only increase over the next few years as more programs are created to include the currently exempt medium and small businesses. Currently, there are no plans to expand logistical support to businesses, and they are expected to bear the costs of transporting waste alone. Furthermore, even the currently existing programs are funded by taxpayers or by resources volunteered by not-for-profit organizations. Though this strategy is effective for pilot projects, the long term sustainability of recycling programs rely on creating economic benefits for the various stakeholders to motivate participation.

Next steps: Right now, this law is only applicable to large facilities, but will soon trickle down to small businesses like restaurants and cafes. Keeping this in mind, we decided to interview approach three different local businesses, each representing three of the most consumed liquids in NYC: Beer, Coffee, and Wine. Keep your eyes open for the next installment in this series, where we talk to a local cafe owner.

What is a provocation or insight that might inspire others during this challenge?

When we think of food waste, we only tend to consider materials that were food in the first place. For example, we think of wasted fruit, vegetables, bread, etc. However, I want to challenge that assumption by proposing that we also consider the waste produced by the food manufacturing and processing industry. In addition, we also need to think of more valuable alternatives to composting.

Tell us about your work experience:

I'm working with a group of NYU students & alumni who are fascinated with the idea of industrial symbiosis: turning the byproduct of one industry into the raw material of another.

This post emerged from:

  • A group brainstorm

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Photo of Kaitlin Mogentale

"The implications are that the infrastructure demand will create a strain on the city as they try to meet their zero waste goals. These demands will only increase over the next few years as more programs are created to include the currently exempt medium and small businesses. Currently, there are no plans to expand logistical support to businesses, and they are expected to bear the costs of transporting waste alone. Furthermore, even the currently existing programs are funded by taxpayers or by resources volunteered by not-for-profit organizations. Though this strategy is effective for pilot projects, the long term sustainability of recycling programs rely on creating economic benefits for the various stakeholders to motivate participation."

This is the same problem we have in LA! I am involved in the LA Food Policy Council, where we have heard that if the city is to meet its waste reduction goals, current infrastructure would only be able to handle about 10% of the increased demand. That's why I believe we need to support more private companies like composters who want to take the waste, separate from haulers. And perhaps the businesses themselves should be tasked with connecting to local resources for reducing waste. That's what my entry is all about: https://challenges.openideo.com/challenge/food-waste/ideas/meet-pulp-pantry-reincarnating-juice-pulp-beyond/

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