Planning Sustainable Food Waste Reuse

A new restaurant in Yonkers, NY, Rockwells Express, wants to install a bioreactor (called “Orca Green,” distributed by Green Guard Associates) that would aerobically digest the restaurant’s food waste and corn-based wrappers, cups and other packaging into liquid slurry. The proposal is under review by the City’s Planning Board because the restaurant wishes to be able to flush the digested slurry into the muncipal sewage system to be treated by a county sewage plant currently operating in excess of its engineered capacity.

The highest and best use for nutrient-rich digested food waste is fertilizer, but the infrastructure isn’t in place to move the slurry from the Yonkers restaurant to an agricultural site (and applying the digested food waste to public parks would raise health and safety issues that would need to be addressed). Finding ways to accommodate the disposal of food waste from restaurants and other commercial food facilities is clearly an important challenge for planners and municipal engineers as they consider how to better integrate the food system in new land use plans, PUD applications, and building codes. Nevertheless, absent a system for land application of the digested material, sending it into the sewage system is ecologically preferable to trucking it, in solid form, to a landfill, where it would decompose anaerobically, producing the potent greenhouse gas methane.

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