There is power on your dinner plate. Whether passed-over peas or leftover bread, your table scraps could help improve the economy and environment, as well as benefit your fellow man, according to Priscilla Hayes, director of the Solid Waste Resource Renewal Group (swrrg.rutgers.edu), based at the Rutgers New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station.

Hayes has traveled the state for the past year to raise awareness about food waste recycling, a cost-effective way to feed the hungry, create jobs, generate money for local businesses, manufacture alternative products, and reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions. She will be one of seven speakers during a food waste recycling forum on Friday, January 30, at 8 a.m. at the Hyatt Regency in Princeton. The forum, sponsored by the Solid Waste Resource Renewal Group and Food and Organics Recycling for New Jersey (FOR NJ), is free and open to the public. Registration is required. To register, call 732-932-9155, ext. 233, or E-mail hayes@aesop.rutgers.edu.

Hayes will teach participants how to create “wastesheds” by working with their neighbors with environmental commissions, municipal recycling coordinators, and membership organizations. “A wasteshed involves putting together a cost-effective, compact hauling route so that everyone gets the lowest prices for food waste recycling,” she says. In other words residents and businesses can establish routes for food recyclers to come to, just as happens with paper recycling or trash pickup. The more stops on the route, the cheaper the cost per-person to pay for it.

“People or organizations can send out information and help you achieve wastesheds,” Hayes says. “Governments can also provide incentives for routes, possibly including franchising of areas or creating several recycling zones.”

Several other presentations will be made, including “Setting up a Food Waste Recycling System” by Charles Link, director of engineering at the Hyatt Regency (www.princeton.hyatt.com), which will establish its own wasteshed during the forum. FOR NJ will recognize the hotel for being the first food waste generator to achieve certification under the organization’s new five-step food-waste recycling program.

Growing up, Hayes lived in several places, including New Mexico, Colorado, and Guam. Her father was a college physics teacher, her mother an English and math teacher.

Hayes attended Princeton University and was among the college’s third class of women. She initially planned to follow in her father’s footsteps, but already having studied Spanish and French, she decided to pursue linguistics.

While at Princeton, Hayes also gained an interest in civil rights and affirmative action. After graduation she enrolled in law school with plans to become a civil rights attorney. She later worked with the New Jersey Public Interest Research Group and the state Attorney General’s office, where she represented the civil-rights division. She also worked for the state Department of Environmental Protection, where she handled several areas, including the Pinelands, coastal resources, and water resources.

The position proved to be a perfect fit for Hayes, who, as a child, enjoyed gardening, camping and playing outdoors. “I always had a sense of nature,” says Hayes, who also is the recycling coordinator for Robbinsville, where she lives. “I wrote an environmental song when I was in junior high about how all animals were citizens of the earth.”

Hayes established a relationship with Rutgers when she worked on a Right to Farm report. She is now the director of the Solid Waste Resource Renewal Group, whose motto is “Turning Waste Into New Products Through Innovation and Policy Change.”

Food waste. Food waste includes uneaten portions of meals and trimmings, and accounts for the third largest component of generated waste by weight, according to Waste Age magazine — which famously cited the University of Arizona Garbage Project that determined Americans throw away 1.3 pounds of food daily.

The two most common types of food waste are prep waste and plate waste, Hayes says. “Prep waste often happens in the kitchen,” she says. “You can segregate out the foods you can compost the leftover foods, for example, vegetables, fruits, eggshells and bread. You can also get prep waste from supermarkets.”

If handled properly, food waste can be used to feed residents, Hayes says. “Obviously, there are health concerns there, and you have to make sure you’re giving humans food that’s not going to hurt them,” she says. “But there is a lot that’s wasted that can be given to hungry people.” This is a chiefly a plan for businesses like restaurants or hotels that deal in large quantities of food and throw much of it away.

Creating food recycling systems. Food waste generators who start a food waste recycling program in their neighborhoods or workplace save two ways: economically by reducing their trash bills, and environmentally by diverting their waste from landfills and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, Hayes says.

“You already separate bottles and glass and paper and cardboard, hopefully, so in terms of making it work, you basically have to learn how to separate a new thing from your trash,” Hayes says, adding businesses can compost leftovers or create a wasteshed and have them hauled away. “Currently you have haulers who pick up in the various streams — someone picks up the garbage, someone picks up the paper, someone picks up the glass. You would just have someone pick up the food waste.”

Food waste not separated from the trash is typically sent with other discarded items to landfills, which contribute to the creation of methane, a greenhouse gas that, according to Hayes, is 72 times more harmful than carbon dioxide. “That’s a lot of global warming that we can avoid if we keep food waste out of the landfill,” she says. “Things that go to the landfill that are biodegradable do not always biodegrade like they would if you just stuck them outside. They just don’t rot away.”

FOR NJ certification. Hayes was instrumental in forming FOR NJ, an organization that has partnered with the Solid Waste Resource Renewal Group to further address environmental and sustainability issues, including food waste recycling. FOR NJ recently established a certification program to recognize those food generators, including schools, restaurants, and hotels, that commit to food waste recycling.

The Hyatt Regency has completed four of the certification steps; the final step, creating a wasteshed, will take place during the forum. Link will talk with the hotel’s neighbors about the benefits of food waste recycling and encourage them to sign onto the hotel’s hauling route.

Booming business. New Jersey is a leader in food composting, and, with the proper oversight, the state could capitalize on food waste recycling, Hayes says. The state has already seen a boom in business among food waste recyclers who are essentially manufacturing scraps and other organic wastes into valuable products, including fertilizers, soil amendments, and biofuels for vehicles and buildings, Hayes says. Food waste recycling plants are planned for Woodbridge and Burlington Township.

“We could create a real industry for New Jersey,” she says, adding food waste could potentially become one of the state’s most profitable and beneficial natural resources.

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