By JOANNA DETZ/ecoRI News staff
NEWPORT, R.I. — Aquidneck Islanders are notorious for their aversion to traveling “off Island,” but annually they send tons of food scrap to the Central Landfill in Johnston. A new initiative aims to keep those scraps out of the trash by expanding residential and business composting on three-municipality Aquidneck Island.
Healthy Soils, Healthy Seas Rhode Island, funded by a $300,000 grant from 11th Hour Racing, will bring together the existing composting efforts of Rhodeside Revival, Aquidneck Community Table, and The Compost Plant in an integrated model to divert food scrap from the landfill.
More than 100 people, most of whom brought their own reusable mugs, gathered at The Mooring Restaurant on Dec. 7 to celebrate the launch.
“This is a multiyear initiative to address how to protect ocean health with a focus on composting,” said Dave McLaughlin, executive director of Clean Ocean Access, the nonprofit that will oversee the program. “We want to start a long-lasting discussion on behavioral change.”
Rhode Islanders send some 100,000 tons of food scrap to the landfill every year. When this material is added to the anaerobic environment of a landfill, methane is released. Some of this potent greenhouse gas is captured and transformed into energy; the rest warms the atmosphere and, ultimately, the world’s oceans.
Properly composted food scrap, however, can be turned into nutrient-rich soil to grow local food.
“You as consumers can have a significant impact down the line,” Leo Pollock, co-founder of The Compost Plant, told the audience. He explained that he and his business partner, Nat Harris, founded The Compost Plant to change the consumption model from linear to circular, to close the loop by turning wasted food scrap back into a resource for farmers and gardeners.
Since its founding in 2013, The Compost Plant, which picks up food scrap from restaurants and large institutions, has diverted 6,500 tons of material from the landfill.
While it doesn’t yet collect from The Mooring, that should change, as the initiative will enable The Compost Plant to work out the logistics of coordinating restaurant pickups and maintaining collection sites in the close quarters of waterfront Newport.
Rhodeside Revival is a door-to-door residential food-scrap collection service founded by University of Rhode Island graduates Conor MacManus and Miguel Costa.
Aquidneck Community Table (ACT) has been leading the effort in food-scrap collection on Aquidneck Island for the past six years, asking customers at its farmers markets to bring food scrap to the market so it can be composted at community gardens.
ACT will continue its drop-off program and will also begin a program called YIMBY (Yes in My Backyard) to educate residents how to compost.
“We are certain that together we can grow these efforts island-wide through the partnership you’re hearing about today,” said Bevan Linsley, executive director of ACT. “We are part of the change in habits that will reduce our waste footprint on the Earth and the oceans and make the future of [Aquidneck] Island more sustainable.”