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Town of Bethlehem debuting new municipal composting system, the Capital Region’s first

The Town of Bethlehem in Albany County is showing off its new food scraps composting system.

With the Feura Bush Road facility, Bethlehem is kicking its recycling program up a notch.

Democratic Town Supervisor David VanLuven says the compost facility is an ecologically responsible way of turning yard waste and food scraps into high quality compost and wood mulch products for healthy soil and landscaping.

"About six years ago, when I was first elected onto the town board, I sat down in McCarroll's, and over a breakfast sandwich had a conversation with Dan Rain, about his vision for waste management in the town of Bethlehem," said VanLuven. "And it was really exciting. It was really grand. And thanks to his incredible work, we now have it today, because now as a town, we are not only composting 2 million cubic feet of yard waste, but we've also started composting food scraps, and that is better for our community. It's better for our environment. And it's better for our yards. And it's better for our town budget."

Dan Lilkas-Rain heads the Bethlehem Recycling and Composting Department. Standing before a 12-foot high pile of waste, Lilkas-Rain says the Feura Bush facility is the first of its kind in the Capital Region.

It uses aerated static pile system technology, employing an electric blower on a timer to pump heated air through perforated pipes beneath the mound made of a 3-1 yard waste to food scraps ratio into compost.

Lilkas-Rain says that shortens what has been a 12-month process involving manual and machine labor down to a "set and forget" 12-week transformation.

“So the first two to four days, we're bringing the temperatures up above 130, the next three to five days or so, we're going to keep them well above that, Lilkas-Rain said. "And then for the rest of the month, another 21 days, 23 days, we're going to keep it in this zone. And after that, believe it or not, after that total of about 30 days, it's ready to pull the pipes out, move this material to cure for another month or two. And then it's finished compost, it can be screened and sold or shoveled by residents or others.”

Diana Wright is Co-Founder and CEO of Foodscraps360, a food waste collection service.

"We work primarily in the Capital District and with local municipalities to help educate our communities about the importance of food scraps diversion, and help them implement programs to make that happen," Wright said. "I'm very happy to be partnering with the town of Bethlehem to divert organics from the landfill, where they would produce methane gas, a potent greenhouse gas to that point food scraps. 360’s motto is 'feed the earth, not the landfill."

Lilkas-Rain says the New York state food donation and food scraps recycling law came became effective in January.

“So it's good timing for us to be able to take in more food scraps, because this law requires large producers, large grocery stores, college cafeterias, large restaurants, arenas and event centers, et cetera, et cetera, who produced more than on average two tons a week or more of excess food scraps, to donate the edible food that's possible, but then also to recycle, in other words, compost, anything that is inedible or can't be donated," Lilkas-Rain said. "So we are actually the only municipal composting facility in the entire Capital Region that is accepting food scraps.”

Lilkas-Rain says the town offers a variety of compost and wood mulch products that locals can either shovel and bag for free or pay a resident rate to get loaded material, or bagged 40-pound bag material for their home gardens. He notes area landscapers and other customers buy in bulk, by the truckload.

"We strive to have a balance of enough material for the residents, as well as enough for our customers to bring in that needed revenue to help offset our costs," said Lilkas-Rain. "Last year, just in the bulk sales we we sold approximately $160,000 worth of bulk compost. We made over $250,000 total. But certainly over $200,000 including the daily sales."

Town Residents may drop off yard waste for FREE (up to 4 yards/week) during Full Service and Self Service hours. Commercial users may drop off yard waste during Full Service hours. See schedule.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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