Public Hearing Scheduled for “Food Waste Prevention and Recovery Act”

Photo by Vivianne Lemay on Unsplash

Ulster People: Mark your calendars!  This one is for us! 

A public hearing has been scheduled for Proposed Local Law No. 5 of 2019, the “Food Waste Prevention and Recovery Act”, on Thursday, October 10, 2019 at 6:15 PM at the Ulster County Office Building, 6th Fl., 244 Fair St, Kingston.

Please come and make your voices heard!

Food Waste, you say? What’s the big deal? 

Americans waste a lot of food–about 133 billion pounds a year.  That’s roughly a third of all the food produced in the U.S. While most people understand what a tragedy it is to waste so much food when there is so much hunger, what many fail to understand is that throwing food away contributes to another global crisis: climate change.    

When food ends up in landfills and rots, it produces huge quantities of methane–maybe not as much as cars or cows, but it’s in third place. Methane is about 30 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a heat-trapping gas.   

Fun Fact: Ulster County throws away 40,000,000 pounds of food scraps each year. That’s about 30% of the trash we send to landfills upstate. 

So, YES, it is a big deal.  We all stand with Greta Thunberg when she says, “Right here, right now is where we draw the line.”  Right? Well, the “Food Waste Prevention and Recovery Act” is about large-scale composting, and composting wasted food reduces the environmental pollution that contributes to global climate change.  It also saves money.

NO, composting food scraps will not solve global climate change–or even the problem of what to do with the rest of our garbage when the Seneca Meadows landfill closes in 2025–which is also a big deal.  But one thing at a time. Requiring large-scale producers of food waste to compost is a start. And it’s a line we can draw now.

Ulster County is Ready!

Visionary environmentalists in Ulster County have been composting here for decades. Mohonk Mountain House, for example, has modeled stewardship of its natural resources by composting tons of consumer food waste every month and using the end-product to fertilize it’s famously spectacular gardens. Similarly, the Frost Valley YMCA has operated what was, at its inception in 1990, one of the few institutional food waste composting systems in the entire country.  The facility serves 30,000 guests annually, composting all of the food waste for use in the camp’s greenhouses.  That same year, New York State’s Department of Corrections began a composting program which 30 years later employs up to 1100 inmates at 29 state facilities.  Aside from savings in transportation and tipping fees and methane reduction, the program provides relevant and productive inmate work experiences.   

In 2012, the Ulster County Resource Recovery Agency (UCRRA) began an organics recovery pilot program to create an alternative to landfill disposal of food waste.  Before the program began, the County was sending 20,000 tons (40,000,000 pounds) of food waste every year to the Seneca Meadows landfill, 250 miles away. In the last 3 years of operation, 

  • 7859 tons or organics have been composted,
  • $809,498 in tipping fees have been saved,
  • 224 tractor trailer transports didn’t make the 250 mile run, and
  • 21,280 gallons of diesel fuel was saved. 

These programs, and others like them, including Greenway Environmental Services and the Community Composting Company, are already up and running in Ulster County.  They have demonstrated the practicality and economic feasibility of mandatory county-wide composting for large food waste producers.   They have reduced the cost of disposal and transport, reduced greenhouse gas emissions, and created an end product that improves soil quality and carbon sequestration, reducing the need for chemical fertilizers and pesticides. They demonstrate that Ulster County is ready to take this on.

Once Again, We Are Ahead of the Curve

Ulster County’s Climate Smart Commission already encourages local businesses to participate in composting programs as part of its new Green Business Challenge, but participation has been voluntary.  That is going to change in 2022 when a new state law (S1508C) goes into effect requiring businesses producing two tons of food waste per month to compost.

But it could happen sooner in Ulster County.    

The “Food Waste Prevention and Recovery Act” would take effect in 2020. We would be two years ahead of the game. The State law exempts healthcare facilities, schools and businesses more than 25 miles from a composting facility (the vast majority).  Our law would apply to all businesses in the County that produce 2 tons of food waste a month, and it will eventually cover even smaller generators, making the transition to the State law requirements far easier. 

Ulster People Make a Difference!  Let’s Make This Happen! 

As with the plastic bag and straw legislation, Ulster County has yet another opportunity to set the environmental standard for Albany and other NY Counties.

Showing up for public hearings is one of the most effective ways Ulster People can show our support for those legislators who support our progressive platform.  It is an effective way to make our aspirations and our concerns visible to our legislators– and make sure that our voices have been heard by the County Executive when this legislation lands on his desk.

Please show up on Thursday, October 10th!

Tell our legislators that right now is where we draw the line!

It’s definitely worth an hour of your time.   

Be a compost champion!


Skip the Straw Law passes UCL!

Chalk up a win for sanity!

On Tuesday May 21, the Ulster County Legislature passed LOCAL LAW NO. 20 of 2018 (A Local Law Requiring Restaurants And Fast Food Service Establishments to Provide Plastic Beverage Straws Solely Upon Request), otherwise known as “Skip the Straw,” 14-7, with all Democrats, plus Heidi Haynes, C-Stone Ridge, and Craig Lopez, R-Shawangunk, voting in favor.

Final approval rests with Pat Ryan, who was sworn in as the new County Executive on June 9.

Ulster People advocated strongly for passage, passing a unanimous resolution in support of the proposed law at our general meeting in May, that was read aloud prior to the Legislature’s vote.

Ulster County banned the use of polystyrene by the food service industry in March 2015 and a ban on single-use plastic bags is scheduled to go into effect in July. In fact, we led the way for the statewide bag ban, which takes effect in March 2020.

Fun fact: Malaysia and the Philippines are among those countries fed up with being our plastic waste dumping ground. Adding insult to injury, we then blame them for polluting our oceans. They’ve decided their best option is to send it back. Hundreds of thousands of tons of plastic waste in thousands of containers are heading back home, back to their countries of origin. Ball’s is whose court?

Skip the Straw isn’t THE answer to the crisis in our oceans, but it’s another small step in the right direction! Nothing wrong with celebrating small victories — as long as we don’t lose sight of the big picture.

If you are feeling brave, check out this heartbreaking video of a chef preparing a fish.

Skip the Straw Law

Not the Last Straw, but a step in the right direction.

On Thursday, May 9, the Ulster County Legislature’s Energy and Environment Committee approved passage of the “Skip the Straw Law”  (Proposed Local Law Number 20 of 2018:  A Local Law Requiring Restaurants And Fast Food Service Establishments Provide Plastic Beverage Straws Solely Upon Request).  The proposed law will be voted on by the full Legislature on Tuesday, May 21. As always, you are invited/encouraged to come make your voices heard.

This law does NOT ban plastic straws!  You can still have your plastic straws – all you have to do is ask.  It is no more than a gentle reminder to businesses and consumers that our oceans are facing a crisis we ignore at great risk.  

According to the Daily Freeman,reaction to the measure has been split among legislators and the public.”  Some feel it is too autocratic and costly for businesses. Some feel it doesn’t go far enough and should include other single-use plastic items, like stirrers and cutlery.  But, as Majority Leader Jon Heppner pointed out, amending the law would trigger more public hearings, more debate – and more delay. “It’s a step in the right direction.

At Ulster People’s May 20 general meeting, I will be introducing a resolution in support of the Ulster County Legislature’s “Skip the Straw Law.”

Fun fact:  

According to the international Earth Day Network, if we don’t change our ways, by 2025, the oceans will contain one ton of plastic for every three tons of fish. By 2050, we’re looking at an ocean that will be home to more plastic (by weight) than fish.  

Corporations, municipalities, and even national governments are implementing bans on plastic straws.  Starbucks has committed to eliminating them by 2020, thereby eliminating more than a billion straws a year.  So have Hyatt, Hilton American and Alaska Airlines, and Royal Caribbean. The E.U. banned them in April. Seattle and Malibu have banned them in 2018.  San Francisco and New York are considering proposals. And on May 13, Ron DiSantis, the Republican Governor of Florida, vetoed a bill that would have prevented local governments from passing plastic straw bans: the Sanibel, Ft. Myers Beach and Miami Beach plastic straw bans stand!

Another Fun Fact:

Common wisdom says paper straws are 6 to 10 times more expensive than plastic. But public pressure has created new markets for reusable straws made of materials like paper, silicone, stainless steel, glass and bamboo.  And for a disposable alternative: I ordered a 200-Pack of 100% Plant-Based Compostable/Biodegradable Flexible Alternatives for $8.99 (about .7 percent more) from Amazon. Report to follow arrival.

Weigh in on Skip the Straw!

Please consider coming  to the May 21 meeting of the Ulster County Legislature when a vote will be taken on the “Skip the Straw Law.”  You needn’t speak – your presence alone reminds our legislators that we are paying attention and that we care. If you do decide to speak (please do!), remember to show up a few minutes early to sign up.

Ulster People’s next general meeting

(at which I will present my resolution to support the “Skip the Straw Law” to our voting members) will focus on Fair Elections and Comprehensive Campaign Finance Reform at both the state and local levels. It is open to the public.   Please come!

UCL Report: “Bring Your Own Bag Act”

One of the proposed laws that currently being considered by the Ulster County Legislature is Proposed Local Law Number 10 Of 2018, A Local Law Promoting The Use Of Reusable Bags And Regulating The Use Of Plastic Carryout Bags And Recyclable Paper Carryout Bags, otherwise known as the “Bring Your Own Bag Act.” This Local Law is the culmination of a decade of discussion in the Legislature. It would ban the use of all single-use plastic bags and require stores to charge 5-cents for recyclable paper bags provided to customers. Restaurants located outside of grocery stores, supermarkets, convenience stores or foodmarts would be exempt. Legislator Tracey Bartels (D-Gardiner) sponsored the law, and Dave Donaldson (D-Kingston) co-sponsored.

At a public hearing in June, 19 community members spoke in favor of passage, and three opposed.

On July 16, the Laws and Rules Committee had voted to block the legislation from moving forward to a vote by the full legislature. The vote was Donaldson, Heppner and Joe Maloney voting to move the forward; Roberts and Haynes against. Chairman Ronk, who has the right to sit in on any committee and vote (which he does whenever he thinks his vote will be needed) cast the deciding vote against. A majority is required for a resolution to pass.

Bartels and Donaldson were able to force the bill onto the Legislature’s August agenda by executing a “petition to discharge,” a procedural move that allows a legislator to bring a measure that has been blocked in committee to the floor of the full legislature by gathering the signatures of eight legislators on a petition. This move does not guarantee a final vote for or against passage— only consideration by the full body. In fact, that is what happened. Bartels, the bill’s sponsor, asked that it be referred back to the Energy and Environment Committee for further work. Look for it on the September meeting agenda.

According to the EPA, between 500 billion and one trillion plastic bags worldwide are used each year, with less than 5% of those recycled. They end up on our streets, clog our waterways and sewers, and the chemicals they are made with leach into our water and our food, ending up in our breast milk, semen, saliva and urine. Environmental groups estimate that tens of thousands of animals, including whales, birds, seals and turtles, die every year as a result of mistaking plastic bags for food.

Other people in other places have learned to manage without single-use plastic bags, including five other municipalities in N.Y., the city of Chicago, the states of California and Hawaii, and numerous countries around the world.

Please, for the sake of all of us in Ulster County, in New York State, in the country, the world and on the planet, take a stand on this bill.

Check the agenda for the September meeting of the UCL, or check back here, for an update on this important legislation. Plan to sign up to speak or just show up and lend your support.

UPDATE: On September 20, the Ulster County Legislature passed, by a vote of 15 to 7, Resolution No. 283.2: A Local Law Promoting The Use Of Reusable Bags And Regulating The Use Of Plastic Carryout Bags And Recyclable Paper Carryout Bags.

Ulster County stores will be prohibited from using plastic bags and will charge at least 5 cents for each paper bag they provide customers, which they can keep— IF Mike Hein signs it.