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Kent May Launch Food Composting Pilot Program

By Holly Crocco

The Town of Kent is applying for a grant to launch a food waste compositing pilot program, in hopes of taking one more step in the direction of being a Climate Smart community.

During the March 7 Kent Town Board meeting, Kathy Kahng of the Kent Climate Smart Communities Task Force described the proposed program. She said the task force has been working with members of Sustainable Putnam, and reached out to volunteers in Philipstown and Scarsdale who run similar programs.

In Philipstown, about 165 families drop off between 400 and 600 pounds of food scraps weekly.

“They started the pilot program about nine months ago and it went really well, and it just became a permanent program in January,” said Kahng. “They have a townwide recycling place that’s only open Saturday mornings, so they put the drop-off location there.”

To apply for the state grant, the town had to solicit at least one bid. According to Kahng, Curbside Compost out of Ridgefield, Conn., can provide weekly pickup services to Kent for $275 per month.

“Ultimately, that’s (the town’s) only cost, having a weekly hauling and processing of the compost,” she said.

The cost to residents who want to participate is $20 for a starter kit, which includes a pail with a lid to keep on the countertop. As you cook, you put your food scraps in there, and as it fills up you dump the waste into a larger container, perhaps in the garage or a shed, that comes with a compostable bag and a lid. That container is what you bring to the drop-off site.

Kahng noted that while residents like herself may already do at-home composting, with a commercia operation, you can include meat, bones, shellfish, and even compostable containers and pizza boxes – all things you can’t include if you’re doing it yourself.

“Really, if you start composting, that’s 30 percent of your garbage, so you have hardly any garbage,” said Kahng. “It doesn’t take that much to put your food scraps in a container on your kitchen counter and take them to the drop-off once a week. It’s a small thing that everybody can do that makes life a little bit better in this town.”

The task force suggests the town order 200 starter kits at a total cost of $4,000, which would be reimbursed as people join the program.

Town Councilwoman Anne Campbell brought the proposal to apply for grant before the board. She said the grant requires a 25 percent match from the town, but that can be “in-kind,” so volunteer time can make up the match.

“We are seeing that these programs are extremely successful in the towns that have started them,” she said. “And, yes, it takes time for it to evolve, but if we got to the point where Scarsdale is now that we have curbside pickup, for example in Lake Carmel for food waste, then the cost of that program would be completely offset because we would be sending much less to the regular landfills, which of course are filling up rapidly in New York State. That’s another reason why the state is funding these initiatives.”

Campbell also said that less greenhouse gases, such as methane, are emitted when food waste is processed by a commercial company than by those composting at home.

As far as where the drop-off location would be for food waste, she said the town needs to do more research.

Councilman Jorma Tompuri said he likes the program, but that he would like the town to gather more information from residents and see how much interest there is, to see if it makes sense to apply for the grant.

“I need to do a better cost-benefit analysis,” he said.

Councilman Christopher Ruthven agreed that there are still details to be ironed out, such as the drop-off location, and whether a paid staff member would have to run the collection site.

“I don’t know if we have the backing behind it to use paid county employees,” he said. “Recycling is a whole different scenario because it’s all volunteer.”

Kahng said Philipstown, Scarsdale and Yorktown each have a paid employee who monitors what’s dropped off, while the City of Beacon has three drop-off locations that are all unmanned.

In addition, the collection company has a screening process to filter out dog feces, plastics and other items that may get thrown in the mix that shouldn’t be, explained Kahng.

She suggested the collection site be at Town Hall, so those who visit the campus for other business can simply drop off their waste while they are there. She suggested the town get about 10 or so 64-gallon rolling garbage bins to fill up, close, and roll away to a shed or fenced-in area so no vermin get in before it is picked up.

“It doesn’t have smell,” she said. “The key is to manage the bins. So once the bin if full, you close it and you don’t touch it again.”

Campbell said she believes the grant would cover the cost of a small shed, if need be.

Councilman Shaun Boyd said he likes the concept of food waste composting, but also said people can do so without participating in a formal program. For example, he said many residents own chickens, who will gladly eat any food scraps that get dropped off.

Ruthven noted that the town can apply for the grant, then work out the details. If it is determined it’s not feasible or there isn’t enough interest in the program, then the town simply declines the grant.

“The theory behind it is fantastic – it reminds me of my grandmother who recycled absolutely everything,” he said. “It’s a voluntary thing. If you want to participate, then you buy the bins. At this point we’re not talking about pickup… you take your bin yourself to the dump site.”

The vote to apply for the grant carried 3-2, with Tompuri and Boyd voting “no.”

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