A former graphic artist and current real estate appraiser in upstate New York, Diana Wright, found herself getting frustrated with the way the world was going, and ten years ago decided to adopt environmental protection as her cause. Working with People of Albany United for Safe Energy (PAUSE) she helped shut down fracked natural gas in NYS and the ‘bomb trains’ bringing Bakken crude into Albany. She was looking to retire, move to a cabin and grow vegetables, when an Albany-area composting project began to falter. The young woman running Foodscraps360 (FS360) was, as Diana puts it,“wearing all the hats,” and burning out. So Wright bought the business and has been running hard ever since. Luckily, more people are stepping up to wear some of those hats, and prospects look bright.
Project Drawdown has ranked 80 global warming solutions that are practical and scalable today. FS360 project impacts four of them: reduce food waste (#3), plant-rich diet (#4), landfill methane (#58), and composting (#60).
Food waste is associated with greenhouse gas emissions at every stage and reducing it has been the subject of multi-pronged efforts in the Northeast, including Zero Waste Capital District, a “volunteer coalition educating the public on sustainable waste management“ which has run webinars and produced videos helping people change their food-buying habits. Zerowastecd.org encourages people to change their relationship to the objects in their lives. Rethink, refuse, reduce, reuse, repair, regift, repurpose, recover (that’s composting), and finally, recycle.
The particular area of concern to Wright, and where her project has an impact on it, is in reducing or eliminating the production of landfill methane. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas, with thirty-four times the greenhouse effect of carbon dioxide; landfills are a prime source, emitting 12% of the world’s methane. Foodscraps, yard waste, wood scraps, and paper produce this methane as they break down and are compacted and capped. Landfill methane can be tapped and purified to be used as a fuel, but it’s far better to divert the organic materials to a better use—composting to grow more vegetables, thus making it easier and cheaper for people to eat a plant-rich diet.
FS360 was originally formed when a composting company called Empire Zero split in two, following the death of its founder, to focus on residential composting, though it also services schools, small food-service businesses and a local culinary institute. Wright currently collects four tons of food scraps a month and composts them, producing what she calls ‘black gold,’ nutrient-rich compost that area gardeners can use to grow more food. As one satisfied customer, Jan McCracken says, “I love composting because of the reciprocity. We take so much from the earth, and it’s an opportunity to give back.” Wright plans to add a phone app to her operation which will allow drivers to rapidly estimate how many pounds each customer contributes, and thus, how much CO2 they are helping to remove from the air.
Right now, FS360 operates out of Wright’s driveway, basement, and porch. But she was recently able to buy three 25 by 75 foot adjacent lots in South Albany.
There, she will host six community gardens, and, working with the City of Albany, be the fourth foodscraps drop-off site for nearby local residents. Wright, a member of Zero Waste Capitol District, also plans to do a lot of education at the site, holding classes on building raised beds and different kinds of composting. In addition to the gardens, Wright plans to build a storage shed to house supplies for her business and the gardeners, as well as keep collected foodscraps from freezing in cold weather. The new site will also be a drop off for clean packing styrofoam (the kind that comes around a new television) and packing peanuts, which are being turned into insulation board by a small company in Cohoes, NY.
Wright and Tina Lieberman, founder of Zero Waste Capitol District, see this project as an opportunity for community building. Wright is currently fundraising to complete the South Albany facility. She needs to raise $18,000 to match the amount of her own money already invested in the project. “I’m not making any money,” she says. “It’s all volunteer. I’m just trying to do the right thing.” Her GoFundMe page and Facebook page are being run by a friend, and fellow compost enthusiast. FS360 recently received a $1500 grant to help make raised beds and get the commnuity gardens going and is rewriting some other grant applications to reflect fresh energy and ambition as the team grows.
What does success look like? People calling about their institutions saying, “We’re wasting food and I hate that. Getting into schools, reaching kids, who will reach their parents. No food scraps being thrown away, because everyone understands that there is no ‘away.’ Success is: no further need for landfills, because we have Zero waste.” Sounds ambitious, but these organizations are making great progress. The mayor of Albany supports composting, and the municipality is starting a composting pilot project. Tina Lieberman is on the city’s sustainability committee, and people are beginning to see that this will save them money. Albany was recently prepared to build a $30 million transfer station, which further catalysed activist support for composting and recycling.
People who are interested can connect with FS360 through its Facebook page to learn how to donate or volunteer.
Jessie Haas lives in an off-grid cabin in Westminster West, VT. She is the author of over 40 books for children and adults. volunteer.