CANANDAIGUA, New York: Cutting food waste and throw-away bags, along with tighter protections for land and water, are top priorities this year for a state-wide organization focused on the environment. The New York League of Conservation Voters and its NYLCV education fund announced a 2018 agenda complete with 50 policies to pursue.
Topping the list are some issues getting attention in the Finger Lakes region. They include reducing food waste and eliminating use of single-use plastic bags that end up in the landfill.
“With environmental policy stalled at the federal level, we will continue to lean on state and local governments to fill the leadership void,” stated NYLCV president Marcia Bystryn. The NYLCV is a non-partisan organization that takes what it calls a “pragmatic approach to fighting for clean water, healthy air, renewable energy, and open space.” The NYLCV uses political action to fight climate change, conserve land and water, and protect public health.
Food waste makes up 18 percent of the solid waste stream in the state, which means it makes a significant contribution to climate change by releasing methane, a potent greenhouse gas, when it decomposes in landfills. The NYLCV is pushing for legislation that would require large generators of food waste to donate excess food to food banks, and recycle inedible food and food scraps. The idea is to ensure food banks have what they need, keep food waste out of landfills and stimulate the market for organic recycling.
In Ontario County, a number of projects are reducing food waste. Those programs include one that began last year at the county jail. Tons of food scraps from the jail in Hopewell are routinely reused for rich compost, fertilizer and producing electricity. The county contracted with a company for collection and hauling. The waste is turned into a renewable resource —such as electricity or natural gas—through the process called anaerobic digestion. The jail food waste can be used for composting and fueling waste-to-energy facilities.
In several area communities, school districts as well as households and businesses are participating in programs for recycling food waste.
To encourage reusable shopping bags instead of plastic throwaways, most stores now sell re-useable totes. Single-use bags are expensive to dispose of, harmful to marine and animal life, and a large contributor to litter, according to NYLCV. The organization is advocating for state-wide legislation that would reduce carryout bag waste through a fee on all single-use carryout bags.
In Naples, volunteers through a local environmental group— which hosted an event last year called Summit in the Valley— started a “borrow a bag” program at the local grocery store. Rennoldson’s Market introduced “Borrow a Bag” in April.
“The idea here is if you’d like to reduce your plastic usage, and you forget your own reusable bags, you can now borrow some of ours,” Rennoldson’s explained in its Facebook page. “Please wash and bring back next time you stop in for the next friends to use.”
Since introducing the bags, Rennoldson’s has reduced its plastic bag purchases by one-third. The store also continues to sell reusable bags at each register.
Jessica Carlson, who works at Rennoldson’s, said Borrow a Bag is working. Shoppers like the concept and people are getting in the swing of it, she said.
Other priorities for NYLCV include protecting children from toxic chemicals by urging the state “to issue permanent, strong regulations on lead in public schools.” The organization also supports legislation “to lower the definition of elevated blood lead level so that more children are treated for lead exposure” as well as “advocate for legislation requiring manufacturers of children’s products to disclose if their products contain potentially harmful chemicals.”
On funding for the environment, NYLCV is once again urging a $300- million allocation for the Environmental Protection Fund (EPF). “The historic $300-million commitment made to the EPF for the past two years reaches every corner of the state and drives progress in nearly every area of environmental policy. The success of the EPF must be continued by fully funding it at $300 million,” NYLCV stated. It also calls for “continued leadership on clean water.”
“The $2.5-billion Clean Water Infrastructure Act of 2017 is a significant down payment to address our enormous green and gray water infrastructure needs,” stated NYLCV. “It is important that the $500 million already allocated for the 2018-2019 budget be spent smartly, efficiently, and in a timely manner. NYLCV is requesting that the full $500 million clean water infrastructure allocation for 2018-2019 be disbursed on time and that the state continues to work with advocates and municipal governments to find ways to improve these programs.”