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NYC Now Heating Thousands of Homes with Food Waste

The rather beautiful Newtown Creek Waste Management Plant in Greenpoint, Brooklyn | Image credit: Jeff Goldberg

Just before the turn of the new year, when many of us were enjoying our annual season of gluttony, New York City Deputy Mayor Cas Holloway announced a pilot program that will convert the thousands of pounds of food waste currently shipped to out-of-state landfills into biogas, which will heat up to 5,200 homes throughout the city and help curb roughly 90,000 metric tons of the state’s annual greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

The program, part of the city’s PlaNYC goal of reducing the city’s GHG emissions by 30 percent by 2017, involves two key partnerships: National waste-aversion pioneers Waste Management will deliver the pre-processed organic food waste collected throughout the city to Greenpoint, Brooklyn’s Newton Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant, where it will be mixed with wastewater sludge to produce biogas, a natural by-product of the five-step wastewater treatment process at Newtown Creek. Then utility National Grid will convert the methane-rich biogas into clean natural gas that will be used to heat homes and businesses across the five boroughs. 

At a press conference announcing the project, Holloway said: “This is the ultimate renewable energy resource. This first-of-its kind renewable energy project will harness part of the 1.3 billion gallons of wastewater that New Yorkers generate every day.”

Currently, the Department of Environmental Protection reuses roughly 40 percent of the 500 million cubic feet of biogas produced at Newtown Creek — NYC’s largest wastewater plant — which accepts an average of 250 million gallons of wastewater per day from northern Brooklyn, western Queens and sections of Lower Manhattan each year. That 40 percent heats the plant’s buildings and digesters while the excess 60 percent is flared into the atmosphere. Under the new pilot program, all of the biogas produced at Newtown Creek will be reused. The excess 60 percent will be purified on-site by National Grid and transformed into renewable natural gas before it’s piped into the utility’s distribution network.

The food waste that will be added to the biogas goulash at Newtown Creek will be collected from 200 public schools, mostly in Brooklyn. If the pilot program proves successful, Holloway said waste would be collected from an additional 200 schools along with 100,000 homes across the city.

“These projects are terrific examples of how New York City is the test bed for bold ideas in clean energy, and developing renewable biogas at Newtown Creek will serve as a blueprint for the type of transformative, sector-crossing projects needed to improve our air emissions and meet our greenhouse gas reduction targets,” said Sergej Mahnovski, director of the Mayor’s Office of Long Term Planning and Sustainability. “The projects will also act as a catalyst for developing new markets and technology for the resources recovered, both here in New York City and elsewhere.”

Case in point: In a similarly innovative solution – the first of its kind in Europe — the city of London recently began redirecting waste heat generated by its Underground trains and using it to help warm homes and cut energy bills in the Islington district.

Back in NYC, Whole Foods Market earlier this week announced the completion of its flagship Brooklyn store, which the company is heralding as a model of energy efficiency and its commitment to protecting the environment. The 56,000-square-foot supermarket was constructed on a former brownfield site restored for the purpose by Whole Foods. The retailer worked with NYSERDA to ensure energy-efficient design and construction, and to support a combined heat and power (CHP) system and a solar energy system as part of NY-Sun, Governor Andrew Cuomo’s initiative to significantly increase the amount of solar energy in the state.

SB Issues in Focus To learn more about innovative ways companies worldwide are eliminating waste, check out our #WasteNot editorial channel.

Jennifer Elks is Managing Editor at Sustainable Brands. She is a writer, editor and foodie who is passionate about improving food systems, closing loops and creating more livable cities. She loves cooking, wine, cooking with wine, correcting spelling errors in… [Read more about Jennifer Elks]

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