These 4 Local Businesses Are Innovating Ways to Cut Food Waste

Meet the winners of the NYC Department of Sanitation’s Foundation for New York’s Strongest’s microgrants who are creating ways to cut local food waste.

bkrot compost bushwick, food waste

Organic waste accounts for about a third of all New York City waste and the Department of Sanitation sees this as an opportunity to redirect significant amounts of trash away from landfills and into more productive uses.

Editor’s note: We’re chronicling how tech is changing the way we eat and drink as we lead up to this fall’s Food Loves Tech. Our annual deep dive into appropriate food and ag technologies returns to Industry City on November 2–3, 2018—stay tuned for updates and watch last year’s highlights, including an expert discussion about food waste, here.

Food waste management just got easier for four local businesses. The NYC Department of Sanitation’s Foundation for New York’s Strongest just announced the winners of its inaugural microgrant program that awards $2,000 for businesses to help implement new strategies for managing organic waste.

“These aren’t complicated systems,” said Elizabeth Balkan, executive director of the Foundation for New York’s Strongest and director of policy at the Department of Sanitation (DSNY). “It’s about connecting the dots when there is just one piece missing needed to activate a much more systematic and sustainable set of operational processes.”

Viewing waste as opportunity

Organic waste accounts for about a third of all New York City waste. The DSNY sees this as an opportunity to redirect significant amounts of trash away from landfills and into more productive uses. But small businesses like restaurants and packaged food brands that deal with organic waste on a regular basis often struggle to manage their waste streams.

The demand, though, is there. More efficient waste management is better for the bottom line, and customers are increasingly aware of food waste as a systemic issue. Many restaurants are eager to incorporate compost separation systems or educate staff, but strapped for both time and resources, it can be tough to prioritize more sustainable management.

“It’s not that they don’t know what needs to be done, but there are a lot of challenges in implementing even incremental change,” Balkan said. The microgrant program administered by the nonprofit arm of the DSNY, the Foundation for New York’s Strongest, is designed to reduce the barriers toward taking steps to improve waste management processes.

The winners

The 2018 grantees engage in different types of businesses and have proposed different types of solutions:

Ox Verte, a plant-based catering company will use the funds to purchase a freezer to help manage a constantly fluctuating inventory.

White Moustache transforms the leftover whey from its yogurt making process into probiotic popsicles and tonics and will use the grant money to purchase a branded freezer cart for its probiotic pops.

Trans Am Café will implement a backyard compost system and storage site and plans to explore selling the compost to the neighborhood.

RoHo Compost is partnering with Smorgasburg’s Williamsburg and Prospect Park sites to install zero-waste stations and educate the public about compost.

The DSNY and Foundation for New York’s Strongest have every intention of making the microgrant program an annual competition. “We hope that next year’s grantees will benefit not only from continued assistance from the foundation but from this first cohort,” Balkan said.

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Nina Sparling is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in Civil Eats, WhoWhatWhy and The Rumpus. She is the associate editor of The Tenderloin, an international journal of food writing.