The Bronx apartment complex is the first to try the waste eating machine

Ismene Speliotis, Director, MHANY; Claire Miplin, Director, Zero Waste Design Center; And processing of the Bronx Peninsula (New York Mutual Housing Association, LinkedIn / Ismene Speliotis, Center for Zero Waste Design)

The hot springs of Yellowstone National Park once melted man. But in 1966 microbiologist Thomas Brock discovered microscopic life forms thriving in stinging water.

Other researchers soon spotted the bacteria in geothermal pockets around the world, from New Zealand to Iceland to Italy to Kamchatka.

Thermophilic bacteria, it turns out, are not picky about their homes. And now they’re popping up in a less exotic place: a housing project in the Bronx.

In the peninsula, 100 percent reasonable development by Gilban Development and Hudson companies and operated by MHANY Management, the bacteria will live in a 12-foot-long box that eats garbage and spits out fertilizer.

The facility, called the Aerobic Digest, will be the first ever in a residential building in New York. (It is manufactured by Harp Renewables, one of many companies that turn bacteria into money-making machines.)

Inside the 160-degree cell of the digestive tract, the same types of bacteria that Brock found in Yellowstone would eat up the residual proteins, fats and carbohydrates of the residents, and eat the garbage until all that was left was organic fertilizer.

Sustainability has become a buzzword in real estate, even though environmentalists often fling the industry for not fulfilling promises to be green. His is this.

In just one day, the digester can turn 1,100 pounds of food waste into 220 pounds of fertilizer, a commodity that has recently reached record prices.

Digestives have the potential to turn one of the big headaches of building owners into a payday.

Every year, nearly 4 million tons of New York organic waste goes to landfills, according to the Hunter College Food Policy Center. Food scraps emit more greenhouse gases in the U.S. than airplanes.

Aerobic digesters, on the other hand, are clean foods. They do not emit carbon dioxide or methane, and their output replaces synthetic fertilizers, an environmental problem in itself. The fumes they emit smell like “calorie cookies,” according to Claire Weiss, the founding director of WXY Studio, the architect of the peninsula.

Digestives also strive to solve a quality of life problem. No one wants to live near a landfill, but even in the most expensive neighborhoods in the city, New Yorkers pile up their garbage bags on the sidewalk. Although aerobic digesters will not eliminate this waste, they can significantly reduce its physical footprint, odor and carbon footprint.

“Forty percent of the weight of these bags can be composted,” said Claire Miplin, an architect and founder of the Zero Waste Design Center, who worked closely with the peninsula’s development team.

In the apartment complex, instead of throwing away leftovers with the rest of the garbage, the residents will receive a separate bin for the material given to the compost. In the garbage room, they will take him to a brown bin, which he will carry suffering to digest.

This is a new approach to waste treatment that sounds more like something a luxury developer will advertise for a luxurious and environmentally friendly development. Generally, people who are looking for affordable housing just want it to be clean and safe, and the developers focus on getting these projects.

The peninsula is an ambitious endeavor. Its four residential buildings will have 740 units, at least 10% reserved for former homeless residents. The developers also guarantee 52,000 square feet of public open land, 15,000 square feet of commercial space and a 52,000-square-foot structure of light industry. So far, only the industrial space and one residential building have been built.

In many ways, the project is the ideal guinea pig for waste management. The empty industrial facility will still contain “food greenhouses” for culinary businesses. Because it produces so much food waste, municipal law requires it to separate organic matter from regular garbage. Conveniently, the digestor will be in the building with the bakers, roasting coffee, caterers, beverage manufacturers and other tenants.

The state grant covered about 40 percent of the cost of digestion, according to Mifflin. The developers claimed that composting at the site would be cheaper than transporting the waste.

This seems to be a particularly elegant solution for the South Bronx, where 14 waste transfer stations pump 150 private waste trucks per hour. It’s one every 24 seconds, according to a group called Transform Don’t Trash NYC. South Bronx residents die of asthma three times the national rate.

But despite all their synergy, aerobic digesters have doubts.

“They have a lot of problems,” said Anna Dangler, a consultant at Great Forest, a sustainable waste management consultant. “It’s still a pretty early technology.”

Dangler has helped a number of hotels adapt to the city’s organic waste separation mandate. Many purchased aerobic digesters like the one on the peninsula, but ran into problems. One issue is the sensitive belly of the machines; Not all organic waste goes down well.

“They don’t necessarily take a lot of materials that can be composted otherwise,” Dangler said.

One of her clients loved to serve fresh orange juice, and created tons of peels and pulp. The acidic residues soon eroded the inside of the digester. Peninsulars may well test their digesters with more challenging waste than orange peels.

The building must overcome the same problem that troubled the city’s organic plan: compliance.

Getting residents to use compost bins and remembering what is allowed and what is not allowed in them was a challenge even in the affluent and granola neighborhoods where the city has developed an organic sidewalk program. In public housing developments, the municipality has not even asked tenants to carry out basic recycling.

Education is critical, especially for the porters and goalkeeping staff who will actually feed the digester.

“It takes gardeners to really understand the nuts and bolts of turning compost into execution,” Dangler said.

Other residential developments have tried other ways to clean up their waste management. Battery Park City mixes its landscaping waste with residential food waste and compost the combination on site, supervised by a professional gardener.

Dangler said her customers were “very skeptical about any of these biological digests.” She usually advises them to hire organic waste carriers who will transport the compost to a facility built to take care of it. This adds flexibility and redundancy – if one facility closes, the truck can move to another facility. No need to worry about digestion.

Then there is the money.

“The early cost of these biological digestions is really high,” Dangler said.

In the peninsula, the digester sits next to the loading dock of the industrial building and waits for its first load. The skinny and bright rooms of the futuristic facility reflect sunlight from their polished concrete floors. Graffiti-style murals of cityscapes adorn the white walls with paint stains. For Mifflin, the peninsula promises to demonstrate to building owners across the city a better way to deal with food waste.

“Pilots and projects like this can show them the way forward,” she said.

Leave a Comment