Food waste is a big piece of the pie in moving toward zero waste

HOPEWELL — Ontario County wants to “get out of the landfill business,” county Planning Director Tom Harvey told an audience Thursday at a event on waste-reduction efforts held at Finger Lakes Community College.

The county’s plan to significantly slash landfill waste within the next 12 years was the impetus for the three-hour event featuring local experts: Darren Magee, associate professor of environmental studies at Hobart and William Smith Colleges; Jason Wadsworth, sustainability manager for Wegmans Food Markets; Rick Herman, executive vice president of Rochester Home Builders Association; and Ava Labuzetta, a pollution prevention engineer with the New York State Pollution Prevention Institute.

Along with local officials and county residents concerned with waste, a few people from neighboring counties came to hear the latest. Diane Cohen is executive director of the Ithaca-based nonprofit Finger Lakes ReUse. Tompkins County doesn’t have a landfill and while its waste gets sent outside the county to other landfills such as Ontario County's, Tompkins has long had programs that greatly reduce landfill waste. That includes a pay-as-you-throw program that charges people based on how much landfill waste they throw away.

What is the key to keeping waste out of landfills? “You have to make it easy,” Cohen said.

Linda Ochs of Waterloo, with Concerned Citizens of Seneca County, is behind efforts to promote landfill alternatives. She noted that the presence of multiple landfills in the region — her county's Seneca Meadows Landfill and the High Acres landfill in Fairport, Monroe County, along with the Ontario County facility — presents the problem of too much landfill trash. Barb Reese, of Seneca Falls, also came to learn more in her role on a town waste management committee in Seneca Falls.

Harvey said Ontario County aims to be a model county for others reducing landfill waste. Ideally, after 2028, the county landfill property in the town of Seneca will be used not for landfilling, but for businesses that reuse and recycle, he said.

For now, “landfilling is still an important component,” Harvey added. Waste “has to go somewhere,” but the landfill is the “option of last resort.”

 

The goal

Waste generated in Ontario County must drop by 60 percent by 2028, when the county’s landfill contract expires.

Ontario County's landfill permit allows nearly 1 million tons of trash annually, most of which comes from outside the county. Landfill waste generated inside the county comes to about 100,000 tons annually.

Landfill manager Casella Waste Systems Inc. recently paid the county an additional $18 million for an expansion. Half of that figure, $9 million, will be spent over the coming years to reach the waste reduction goal, including $500,000 to help the county’s municipalities reduce waste. The other $9 million is going to the county's general fund for costs associated with technology upgrades and other operating expenses.

 

 

How to get there

The amount of materials recycled in Ontario County rose from 30 percent to 40 percent in the last six months.

The county has boosted the number of recycling bins countywide, added clearer labeling of recycling areas and receptacles, and added new website features for people to access information on how and where to recycle. The county has hired Rochester-based Causewave Community Partners to help in education efforts.

Ontario County has two employees whose work is largely focused on waste reduction projects. As well, the county is partnering with area colleges, universities, businesses and nonprofits to reduce waste. The county has expanded its hazardous waste drop-off events from one to two per year and will host an electronic waste collection day in 2017.

A special program to tackle agricultural waste such as plastics used in farming as well as chemicals, feed supplies and other materials is underway. The project involves working with Cornell University and others.

A pay-as-you-throw program, similar to Tompkins County's, is being explored.

Magee, associate professor of environmental studies at Hobart and William Smith, talked about the colleges’ projects. HWS food waste goes through a system that grinds food scraps into a pulp that is then processed for a number of reuses. Those include making compost of rich soil for farmers and bedding for farm animals, and putting the pulp through a process that results in generating electricity.

Wadsworth, Wegmans sustainability manager, talked about Wegmans' approach to reducing emissions and landfill waste, and creating sustainable choices for people. Those include continuing to give consumers the choice of using plastic grocery bags, but encouraging customers to recycle those bags through Wegmans. Wegmans also urges customers to recycle food-wrappers and other plastic bags, along with using reusable grocery bags.

Solar panels are used at Wegmans Organic Farm, which encompasses 20 acres in production in the town of Canandaigua, as well as at the Wegmans office building in Rochester. The company has 8,000-plus solar panels in New York state. Wadsworth also referred to Wegmans' donations to Foodlink food bank in western New York and a food bank in Maryland.

A big push is on now to recycle food waste and keep it out of the landfill, Wadsworth said. Of Wegmans' 91 stores, 68 recycle food waste and the number is growing, he said. A goal is to make Canandaigua a pilot story for “zero waste.” Wegmans set a target of reaching 80 percent zero waste by end of 2016. He said at the end of the third quarter it reached 77.5 percent.

Wegmans works with area partners such as Rochester Institute of Technology for a sustainable packaging program and is reducing its carbon emission by upgrading its refrigeration processes, among other efforts.

Herman, with Rochester Home Builders Association, talked about the national green building standard the association adheres to and the changes that have taken place to reduce landfill waste from construction. There must be onsite recycling and at least 50 percent of materials used must be recycled, he said. Another waste reducer: recycling of plastics that cover cabinetry, appliances and other items going into home building and renovations.

Labuzetta, pollution prevention engineer with the New York State Pollution Prevention Institute, talked about the statewide project to help municipalities, businesses and organizations reduce waste. A goal in the state’s waste reduction plan is reducing landfill waste statewide by 50 percent by 2030, and food waste is a big piece of the pie.

Labuzetta said legislation is pending in Albany to place a cap on the amount of food waste that large food waste generators like jails, schools and hospitals are allowed to send to landfills. If passed, the law would forbid institutions that generate 2 tons or more per week of food waste from sending such waste to landfills.

One project the institute is working on now with partners is helping in the weighing and tracking of food waste generated by large producers. The information is then used to help those places reduce the waste and divert it for productive use, Labuzetta said.

 

How to help

Want to volunteer with waste reduction in Ontario County? Contact Regina Sousa at Regina.Sousa@co.ontario.ny.us or 585-396-4455.

Find out how to dispose of stuff in Ontario County: A how-to with drop-off locations for everything from batteries to appliances, construction debris to food waste is at http://bit.ly/2ebbjAK.