North Elba Supervisor Robert "Roby" Politi
North Elba Town Board members are considering a plan to build an anaerobic digester at the transfer station that would turn food scraps and other matter into fertilizer that could help them grow produce.
Tammy Morgan presented the anaerobic digester proposal to board members at their May 8 meeting. Instead of throwing away food scraps, cooking oil and yard waste, the town could recycle it and make some money.
“The food that we are talking about here is something that has both matter and energy that could provide economic input into our region instead of being just this thing that we’re constantly paying for,” Morgan said.
In an anaerobic digester, microorganisms break down biodegradeable material without oxygen. Food scraps and matter are put into a digester and come out as “digestate” that has a solid and liquid component.
“And both parts are useful as fertilizers,” Morgan said.
Methane gas is also generated.
On the flip side, composting is an aerobic process that uses oxygen.
The four goals of the project are:
•to divert 90,000 tons of organic material from landfills annually;
•to create green jobs in the rapidly growing field of bioenergy and bioproducts;
•to generate income by producing organic fertilizers and vegetables year-round;
•and to make the town of North Elba a model for other communities.
The food grown in the greenhouse — proposed to be built at the transfer station — would go on the market to sell. And the town could sell the fertilizer.
“This is definitely a marketable commodity in the region,” said Gail Brill of the Adirondack Green Circle, one of the project’s partners. Brill said the fertilizer would be welcome among local gardeners.
Morgan has the help of some local students and other partners: Lake Placid Central School, North Country School/Camp Treetops, SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, Clarkson University, Cornell Cooperative Extension, the Wild Center and Adirondack North Country Association.
In 2010, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimated that food scraps make up 14 percent (34 million tons) of municipal waste in the U.S., and less than 1 percent is recycled. And yard trimmings make up about 13 percent of U.S. waste.
Anaerobic digesters are popular in Europe and the city of Toronto has success with its system.
If the digester project is adopted in the town of North Elba, residents would have to keep a separate container for food waste, and separate food waste removal services will be required.
Federal funding is available to set up the system, which is not complicated, according to Morgan.
“It’s really plumbing; it’s not really crazy technology,” Morgan said.
Morgan suggested two options for managing the anaerobic digester system. One was to have Essex County run the operation.
But North Elba Supervisor Roby Politi said, given the county’s current fiscal situation, that’s unlikely.
“I don’t think the county is an option,” Politi said. “I can see the county yielding to the towns instead of the towns yielding to the county.”
Morgan also suggested that the town lease the digester program to a private company, such as Casella. But the supervisor and councilmen were in favor of a third option.
“Why would we have to deal with an outside source instead of doing it ourselves?” Politi said.
“I’d like to see North Elba do it,” said Councilman Jack Favro.
Yet the town is faced with one possible problem.
“Do we have the space down there?” Politi asked. “Although it looks like a big space, it’s somewhat restricted.”
There needs to be room for a tank and a greenhouse.
Politi said it’s not an issue to pass a conceptual resolution for the anaerobic digester.
“Just make sure we’re the first one,” added Councilman Bob Miller.
A feasibility study could be completed by the end of July and the town could go out to bid in August.