Why can’t I compost my food waste in the Lehigh Valley?


compostlogo2I am new to the Lehigh Valley and am really enjoying spring and the beauty of the area.   Learning about the EnvisionLV Sustainability Challenge has inspired me to want to take action to preserve the beauty of the Lehigh Valley.  I have developed a more eco-minded and sustainable lifestyle by reducing my household environmental impacts.

What does this mean?  First, I started by reducing plastic bags. Second, I have found several farmers’ markets that help me to consume more fresh local food. Third, I would now like to find ways to reduce my household waste, especially food waste. I have noticed that residents of the Lehigh Valley are able to recycle glass, plastic, aluminum cans, paper and cardboard. Actually, I have been informed that even if you live in an area where recyclables are not picked up, you could drop them at many recycling facilities, including those in Allentown and Bethlehem.

I have seen online educational material about yard waste recycling and composting offered through many municipalities in the region. Many websites show how to compost at your home. However, home composting is not feasible for people, like me, who live in apartments. I would like to use my food and organic waste for composting instead of sending it to the landfill, but where can I do it?  As a new arrival I have noticed that the missing piece of the Lehigh Valley is food waste composting.

what to compostIn researching the answer to my question, I read the Assessment Report: Lehigh Valley Local Food Economy by Greater Lehigh Valley Buy Fresh Buy Local, a program of Nurture Nature Center. According to this study, “While several municipalities in the Lehigh Valley compost yard waste, there are none that are currently composting food scraps from residences or businesses.” The report states that composting would be beneficial for our economy. This has been proven by other communities that have implemented food composting practices and policies in order to reduce their waste, which consequently, saves the municipality money. For instance, the report mentioned that “The city of Seattle saved more than $250,000 through its food waste composting program.”

In 2011 there was a big movement for food composting in the Lehigh Valley. Three events happened: 1) SARE granted the Lehigh Valley funds to design a composting pilot program; 2) Rodale Institute offered composting training; and 3) an attempt was made to develop a multi-municipal composting plan at Lower and Upper Bethel Townships. This last idea was never realized since residents were worried about environmental impacts.

After the pilot program conducted through the SARE grant, Fegley’s Allentown and Bethlehem Brew Works have continued to compost food waste. Basically, Rodale Institute collects Brew Works’ food scraps and napkins and composts them. For more information about the background of this pilot program, click here.  Also, Lafayette College composts food scraps, packaging and cutlery from the dining hall.  One hundred percent of the final product is used for landscaping on Lafayette’s campus. This was possible thanks to a PA Department of Environmental Protection grant in 2010. In addition to these local efforts, nearby Lambertville, NJ is planning to obtain energy from food waste decomposition. This municipality is collecting food waste from schools and businesses. It proposes to be an example for other small communities in the area.  Click here for more information

If the Lehigh Valley population continues increasing as projected by the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission, landfills could be receiving approximately 20% more waste on top of the actual amount. This will cost our municipalities (and rate-payers) more money, because trash haulers pay by the pound for what they deliver.  How could we keep our trash hauling fees under control and preserve our countryside for uses other than landfills?  By composting food waste.   By doing so, we convert the food waste to compost, a valuable product that gardeners call “black gold,” and reduce the need for landfills.  I urge people to take action by promoting and doing these practices. Homeowners, learn how easy it is to compost food waste at home and do it now.  Entrepreneurs, start your own business in an area where there are no competitors and click here to be inspired by the stories of other entrepreneurs. Citizen, learn more about the benefits of composting and promote it in your municipality.

Michelle Diaz

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Posted on June 3, 2014, in Food, Neighborhoods, Uncategorized, Water and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. Thanks for this very good post! I can see why some short-sighted people oppose initiatives that might create financial costs while saving people’s health and lives, but composting is a no-brainer if there ever was one.

    I think the problem is a combination of inertia and a failure of imagination, but you would think the cash savings would be enough to overcome the barriers. Hundreds of communities have found the savings impressive; even a big city such as San Francisco mandates composting — and provides separate collection. Other towns provide free composting bins to those with space.

    I’m sad to report that the officials I’ve approached about this over the years have shown no interest. We did get the Bethlehem Compost Center to accept all the food waste from an EAC conference we hosted a few years back, but it was a one-time exception…

  2. Renew Lehigh Valley

    We think that things are going to change with more attention to the need for municipal cost savings and more attention being paid to climate action. Why burn the gas to haul our kitchen waste to a landfill when we can make “black gold” from it here?

  3. If they accepted all the food waste from your conference why can’t they do it always? What should be done to have it always? Can we organize a collection date in a specific facility so they can pick it up and process it?

    For instance, we can place some containers on Saturdays at a Bethlehem park where people can place their food waste and at the end of the day the compost center can pick it up.

    They can even have some revenue!

  4. Michelle Diaz

    If they accepted all the food waste from your conference why can’t they do it always? What should be done to have it always? Can we organize a collection date in a specific facility so they can pick it up and process it?

    For instance, we can place some containers on Saturdays at a Bethlehem park where people can place their food waste and at the end of the day the compost center can pick it up.

    They can even gain some revenue!

  5. As I recall, food composting requires a different [more stringent] permit from DEP. They actually had to obtain a 1-day waiver to accept our waste. The director of that department has retired, so we could check to see what the new manager has to say. Are you in Bethlehem? [I don’t think they would accept food waste from non-residents.] -_eter

  6. Michelle Diaz

    Peter, do you know of any composting facility at Pennsylvania? This is very interesting and I guess it requires some important permits.

  7. Peter Crownfield

    Rodale Institute started a pilot food-waste composting program 2–3 years ago, taking food waste from several colleges in the LV and from Fegley’s BrewWorks.

    A student at Muhlenberg was exploring ways to get more businesses to compost food waste, but I don’t know where that stands.

    If you’d like to work on making something happen, we should probably discuss the details offline — you can reach me at peter@sustainlv.org.

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