County Executive Robert P. Astorino (center), Arc of Westchester participants and other partners cut the ribbon for county’s new composter – “The Rocket.”

Astorino, Arc of Westchester and Westchester Community Foundation Unveil “The Rocket” at Ribbon Cutting Ceremony

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WHITE PLAINS, NY — County Executive Robert P. Astorino today officially launched the second phase of his Food Waste Reduction initiative – which focuses on collecting food waste and turning it into compost that will be used in gardens and parks throughout Westchester – in partnership with Arc of Westchester and the Westchester Community Foundation during a ribbon cutting ceremony that unveiled county’s new composter 

“The Rocket” at the Household Material Recovery Facility (H-MRF) in Valhalla.

“We are so proud of this project because it works on so many levels,” said Astorino. “It turns food waste into useable product, it provides job training for people with developmental disabilities and it shows how a simple idea can become a reality that preserves our environment and benefits our economy.”

The initiative, which Astorino first announced in his 2015 State of the County Address, focuses on managing waste for businesses in a cost-effective way by repurposing it and is unique in that it combines the efforts and resources of several organizations. The first phase of the initiative focused on training Arc of Westchester (the county’s largest organization serving individuals with autism and other developmental disabilities) participants in composting, recycling, waste removal, organic gardening and how to assist the county’s Department of Environmental Facilities (DEF) in operating and maintaining “The Rocket.”

The trainings were made possible thanks to a $15,000 grant from the Westchester Community Foundation.

“We are thrilled to be a part of an effort that not only teaches job skills to an underserved population, but that also promotes smart environmental practices,” said Laura Rossi, Executive Director of the Westchester Community Foundation. “It’s an exciting collaboration between the county and Arc of Westchester.”

Thanks to this great partnership, more than 20 Arc of Westchester participants will work three days per week at the H-MRF as part of an employment preparation training program, which will ultimately help them secure jobs in green business.

“We are grateful to Westchester County and the Westchester Community Foundation for partnering with us to provide opportunities for individuals who were in need of job readiness skills,” said Tibi Guzman, Associate Executive Director/Chief Operating Officer for Arc of Westchester. “They are now on a path to exploring new careers and are contributing to the sustainability of Westchester County communities.”

“The Rocket” – a self-contained composter for on-site treatment of organic waste – was purchased by the county’s Department of Environmental Facilities to be housed at the H-MRF. The machine’s advanced system provides a clean and simple way for food waste to be treated after its disposal and turned into high quality compost. 

With the addition of “The Rocket,” the operational phase of the initiative can now get underway. Food waste, which will be collected from Westchester Medical Center and Westchester Community College on an ongoing basis, will be turned into compost. The enriched soil will go to the Food Bank for Westchester’s community gardens and to the county’s Department of Public Works for use on county grounds. Since October, one thousand pounds of food waste has been collected and converted to four hundred pounds of compost. Currently, the compost is waiting to be cured and is projected to be delivered to various grounds by end of December. 

Under the leadership of County Executive Astorino, Westchester County has experienced an impressive decrease in the amount of residential garbage that it produces.  In 2009, the county disposed of 421,000 tons of residential garbage.  Last year that amount was down to 386,000 and that trend has continued through 2015.  Much of this reduction is attributable to the county’s outstanding recycling performance.  In 2014, the county posted a municipal recycling rate of 50 percent and an overall recycling rate of 48 percent, far outpacing the EPA national average of 34.5 percent and the New York State average of 36 percent. Astorino’s latest initiative is designed to reduce food waste, which the US Environmental Protection Agency estimates amounts to almost 15 percent of the refuse.

With the support of the Westchester Green Business Challenge, the county plans to showcase this project to schools, hospitals and food industry businesses to demonstrate how they can convert their food waste into compost while possibly saving money on their waste hauling bills. It will also serve as a showcase to heighten local awareness of, and efforts to, divert food from the waste stream.