NEWPORT — Clean Ocean Access has received a $300,000 grant to coordinate and expand composting programs with two local companies and a nonprofit organization, all with established expertise in the field.
11th Hour Racing, which works with sailing and maritime communities to promote ocean health, awarded the grant for the initiative called Healthy Soils, Healthy Seas RI. While the program is beginning locally, backers are hoping the model spreads statewide and eventually is imitated nationwide.
The Compost Plant, Rhodeside Revival LLC and the Aquidneck Community Table are the boots-on-the-ground organizations that will manage the commercial and residential composting collection and processing with an initial focus on Newport and Middletown.
More than 100 people packed into the enclosed terrace of the Mooring restaurant on Sayers Wharf downtown Thursday. Featured speakers included U.S. senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse and Janet Coit, director of the state Department of Environmental Protection.
“If you told me a couple years ago more than 100 people would be attending a press conference about food waste, I would have said, ‘No way,'" said Leo Pollock, who co-founded The Compost Plant with Nat Harris in 2013. Harris also was a co-founder of Newport Biodiesel.
Coit told the audience that more than 100,000 tons of foods are disposed of in the Central Landfill located in Johnston every year.
Organic waste and debris make up 30 to 35 percent of all waste going into the state landfill that is expected to reach capacity by 2034, according to a recent report published by the Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corp., which operates the landfill.
Plastics add up to another 10 percent to 15 percent of all material entering the landfill.
With the potential to divert nearly 50 percent of the materials entering the landfill, integrated recycling and composting efforts could double the landfill’s lifetime through 2049 and mitigate costly expenses associated with out-of-state tipping fees, Clean Ocean Access said about its initiative.
“The marine debris epidemic is a solvable problem, and from our experience, people absolutely want to see ocean pollution become a problem of the past,” said Dave McLaughlin, executive director of Clean Ocean Access. “Restoring and improving ocean health starts with the decisions we make on land.”
Michelle Carnevale, program manager for 11th Hour Racing, and Monica DeAngelis, a marine biologist on the Clean Ocean Access board of directors, explained how getting food waste out of landfills helps the oceans.
When the nation’s millions and millions of tons of food waste decompose, it releases greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere, trapping heat on Earth and warming the oceans, Carnevale said.
The decomposing food also releases nutrients into the groundwater, which feeds into rivers and streams that flow into the ocean where algae blooms form, DeAngelis said.
“It’s a global issue that has to be dealt with,” Reed said. “This is beginning in Newport and Middletown, but we hope to make it statewide.”
Whitehouse, who founded the Ocean Caucus in Congress and has sponsored federal legislation aimed at reducing marine debris in the oceans, also hailed the initiative.
“This initiative provides systemic change at the individual level and the community level,” Carnevale said. “We hope it becomes a statewide initiative and a national model.”
The Compost Plant collects food waste from major institutions like Salve Regina University and Roger Williams University, as well as many commercial restaurants. The company brings the food waste to a large farm in this state and a farm in Massachusetts, where it is all composted.
“Since 2014, we have collected more than 6,500 tons of food waste,” Pollock said. “Relatively speaking, we are merely scraping the top of the iceberg. Newport and Aquidneck Island can be a microlab for Rhode Island.”
The company works with all the Newport Harbor Corp. restaurants, except The Mooring and 22 Bowen’s Wharf because of space limitations and “challenging logistics,” Harris said.
The grant will allow the company to install storage containers at such restaurants for later collection, he said.
Rhodeside Revival LLC, founded by Conor MacManus, operates a curbside composting program that picks up food scraps from homes and transports them to composting facilities.
Aquidneck Community Table, established in 2016 through the merger of three related groups, collects food waste at farmer’s markets on Aquidneck Island for composting.
Grant funding will allow Clean Ocean Access to subsidize these composting programs and offer discounted rates for people and restaurants who sign up for the new program.
The grant also will fund an educational pilot program called, “Yes, In My Back Yard (YIMBY),” to encourage backyard composting.
For more information about Healthy Soils, Healthy Seas RI, visit cleanoceanaccess.org/hshsri/