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Pilot program pitched to make better use of town’s food waste

A new environmental organization dedicated to reducing the impacts of climate change on a local level is turning to an unlikely culprit: food waste.

Jim Bunchuk, the town’s solid waste coordinator, said members of the Drawdown East End group approached him with a plan that could divert over a million pounds of food waste per year from the town’s waste stream.

Mr. Bunchuk said the idea is consistent with the state’s new emphasis on solid waste planning for municipalities. “Food waste is the biggest component left in the garbage stream that doesn’t need to be in garbage if it can be composted,” he said Tuesday during a Town Board work session.

Under the pilot program created and funded by Drawdown East End, 30 local families would initially agree to separate their food waste from their regular trash for 30 days. They would need to bring their compostable food waste — including meat, dairy, fruits and vegetables, eggshells, coffee grounds and tea bags — to the town’s transfer station in food waste buckets. A team from Drawdown East End would then weigh the food waste, provide participants with clean buckets to be refilled and transport the waste to Treiber Farm, where it would be composted and used for soil regeneration.

Peter Treiber Jr. said in an interview Tuesday that it comes down to the willingness and education of the community at large. “It’s important for the holistic, waste not-want not approach to farming,” he said. “It starts and begins with soil.”

“Banana peels, onion skins, lettuce heads or the parsley that rotted in the fridge, it’s so unnecessary for that to go into a landfill,” Mr. Treiber said. “It could be so beneficial [to farms.]”

Though supportive of the idea, Supervisor Scott Russell asked that members of the organization attend a future work session to provide a better understanding of the program, as well as talk through logistical issues, such as how often residents would be asked to drop off their waste.

For example, Mr. Bunchuk said, all composting would need to take place off-site and would need to be picked up daily. “Whatever food they’re going to bring, it has to be sealed,” he said, so it won’t attract pests. “We can’t hold waste overnight without getting the [New York State Department of Environmental Conservation] involved.”

If the pilot program is successful, Drawdown East End hopes to expand it townwide. They estimate that each person generates approximately 1.6 pounds of food waste per week. With 23,000 residents in Southold Town, that could prevent as much as 1.9 million pounds of food waste from entering the stream each year.

“One of the things they’d like to educate people on is not buying excess food,” Mr. Bunchuk said.

Photo caption: Jim Bunchuk outlines the pilot program at Tuesday’s Town Board work session. (Credit: Tara Smith)

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