By ERIN ROLL
Could Montclair residents one day be able to put their organic food waste out for recycling pickup, or drop it in a designated recycling bin around town?
The question has been posed on social media: “If New York can do it, why can’t we?”
“It” refers to a program that is taking off in New York City, the recycling of organic food waste — fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, tea bags and so forth — in special bins located at designated points around the city.
Gray Russell, Montclair’s sustainability officer, says the issue of recycling organic material is more complicated than some residents might think.
But Russell thinks that Montclair, along with the rest of New Jersey, may have the means to collect food waste along with other recyclables sometime in the near future.
“Food waste is the next wave of recycling,” Russell said on Monday.
According to the EPA, “more food reaches landfills and incinerators than any other single material in our everyday trash, constituting 21.6 percent of discarded municipal solid waste.” A fact sheet at epa.gov on the sustainable management of food says that in 2014 only 5.1 percent of food waste nationally was diverted from landfills and incinerators for composting.
One obstacle to recycling organic waste in New Jersey is that the state does not yet have any approved facilities built to handle large amounts of food waste and compost.
Russell said that food waste makes up the largest proportion of household trash. It also accounts for most of the smell, he said. “I say that food waste is what gives our garbage a bad name.” As household trash, food waste is currently most likely to end up in a landfill, where it breaks down anaerobically and produces methane gas — a key contributor to climate change.
Three major U.S. cities — San Francisco, Portland and Seattle — and at least one Canadian city — Vancouver — have mandatory food-waste composting laws on their books, Russell said. Food composting on the municipal level is also making inroads in Maine, Massachusetts and Connecticut, he added, so it is likely a matter of time before it begins catching on in New Jersey.
Russell noted that Montclair State University recently invested in an aerobic composter called “the Rocket.” However, he said, the university has to work out a system in which food service staff would be trained on separating food waste from other kitchen waste, and it has to figure out how the custodial staff would get the waste to the composter, especially during the summer months when the university is empty.
Montclair has a collection program for yard waste — leaves, twigs and branches — and holds an annual “Compost GiveBack” day when the township gives residents professionally made compost from that yard waste. At the giveback event, the Environmental Affairs office sells compost bins at a discount and conducts composting demonstrations.
A few organizations in Montclair have begun to accept compost on a very small scale.
The Montclair Community Farm has advertised its Orange Road site as a drop point for compost from apartment and condominium dwellers. First-time contributors are asked to come by the farm on Fridays between 10 a.m. and noon and ask for the staff’s assistance. The Montclair Community Farm is behind the Montclair History Center at 110 Orange Road.
Accepted items include fruit and vegetable scraps, eggshells, coffee grinds and filters, tea bags, wood chips, dryer lint and pet hair. Not accepted are meat, bones, compostable containers and takeout containers.
Chrystine Gaffney, the MCF’s farmer, said that it was requested that first-time contributors get help from staff on their first compost drop-off so that staff could show where to deposit compost and how to turn the pile. She also said that the farm was also in need of dry leaves during the fall to add to the compost.