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Onondaga County's compost program is growing in more ways than one

Ellen Abbott
Waste is being transformed into compost at the OCRRA facility in Amboy.

Onondaga County’s program that turns food waste into the compost and mulch we use in our gardens is expanding.

OCRRA, the Onondaga County Resource Recovery Agency, has installed new structures that make the process at the Amboy Compost Facility work like a well-oiled machine.

It all starts with the food we throw away at restaurants, schools and grocery stores; the fruit rinds, the crusts of bread and corn husks. Those scraps are dumped into a new covered mixing area at the facility on Airport Road in Amboy.

OCRRA Gatekeeper Chuck Mashaw then says three parts yard waste is mixed with one part food waste.

"It is poured into the mixer truck, it's like a big huge food processor," Mashaw said. "It turns the food, mixes everything in. When everything's mixed, it’s dumped into the aerating bins over here."

Add some air and in about four weeks, in the huge cement stalls, you get compost. It’s refined further and left in big piles for people like Edward Pospiech, of North Syracuse, to use in a community garden this spring.

"In our throwaway society, it’s nice to have somebody who’s reusing something," Pospiech said.

OCRRA Recycling manager Greg Gelewski says it’s the biggest food composting operation in New York state, taking 10,000 pounds of garbage out of the waste stream.

The Amboy Compost Facility’s program continues to grow, with new facilities at the site that help the compost process along. Gelewski says the future looks bright for this program.

“This is just the beginning. Ten thousand tons is just a fraction of what’s available in our waste stream," Gelewski said. "So this shows it’s functioning, it has a market, can be financially sustainable, let alone environmentally sustainable, let alone morph into other avenues and other materials.

“It’s one of a kind in the process, and it’s one of a kind in accepting food waste in this volume."

Gelewski also says the community has been taking advantage of the recycled material in their gardens.
“Last year it was 18,000 customer visits," he said. "And each year that grows another thousand, another thousand. Our community has fully embraced it and they want more of it.”

And he says there’s always room for growth. Right now the food scraps are from commercial sources, restaurants, schools and grocery stores.

"Folks ask every day, can we do our residential food waste," Gelewski said. "And there may be a progression of time where that’s possible."

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.