Charles Vigliotti, president and founder of American Organic Energy, an affiliate of Long Island Compost, is known throughout New York as an environmental champion and advocate for sustainable energy here on Long Island.
His company’s latest endeavor, an anaerobic digester that will transform waste into clean energy while eradicating harmful emissions, has received high praises from the environmental community, state watchdogs, and even the governor.
With completion slated for August 2016, American Organic Energy’s anaerobic digester will have significant environmental benefits on the metropolitan region. It will eliminate 40,000 tons of greenhouse gases, annually. It will accept 180,000 tons of food waste and convert it into natural gas, electricity, water, and organic fertilizer—tonnage that would have otherwise been carted off the island in diesel fuel trucks to landfills.
Yet what makes this revolutionary facility even more remarkable is its extraordinary origins. American Organic Energy’s anaerobic digester is the direct result of an all-too-rare collaboration between industry and environmentalist that began with a grassroots movement relentless in its quest for the most efficient, Earth-friendly waste treatment and emissions system.
Leading the charge was Adrienne Esposito, the executive director of the nonprofit Citizens Campaign for the Environment, who created an environmental advocacy group called Brookhaven Community Coalition originally as a means of remedying some of the not-so-popular consequences of operating an organic recycling station nearby residential communities.
As organic material decomposes—well, how do we say this? It can stink!
“Several years ago the community in Yaphank were exceedingly concerned about odors from the Long Island Compost and formed Brookhaven Community Coalition, which encompassed the fire [department], the library, civic associations, the ambulance company,” explains Esposito. “We took our concerns to Albany and met with Marc Gerstman, currently the acting commissioner of the DEC [New York State Department of Environmental Conservation], to air our concerns.”
What followed was an at-times heated battle that ultimately fostered a surprising result: partnership and cooperation.
“We created a dialogue where we said, ‘Let’s talk about all the things that bother you about the facility,’” remembers Vigliotti. “The dust, the noise, the odors. We spent a great deal of time and a good amount of money doing studies, engineering firms, an odor survey of the site, of different odor sources, identifying in order of magnitude, and we came to an agreement.”
Upon listening to the grievances of the community, Long Island Compost took immediate action—for example, giving up certain odorous materials, such as bagged grass.
Hot, humid, wet grass left outside in the sun long enough will cook at 90 degrees, emitting odors quite unpleasant to surrounding residents.
“We recognized that that was a problem, so we gave up over a million dollars a year in income,” says Vigliotti. “That had a mitigating effect on the community right away.”
“Long Island Compost became engaged in a way I’ve hardly seen before,” she says.
“There was a group of things that we agreed because the community realized that we needed to process the material indoors rather than outdoors. Hence, the eventual support of the digester,” explains Vigliotti. “Therefore, the community coalition, instead of acting in opposition to what could have been seen as the expansion of a facility with problems, now is seen as the answer to a lot of the facility problems.”
“The research, the time the energy that went into this, is really phenomenal,” says Esposito. “At the end, Charles proposed this digester idea. The more we looked into it, the more we loved it. It’s a significant game-changer for solid waste on Long Island—and I don’t say that too often.”
Esposito’s enthusiasm for American Organic Energy’s anaerobic digester is shared by local and state politicians and environmental officials alike.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently praised its creation, announcing on Sept. 1 that he’d adopted the project as a significant part of his “Reforming The Energy Vision,” the state’s comprehensive energy initiative to build a clean, resilient and affordable energy system for all New Yorkers.
“This exciting project is yet one more way we’re investing in a sustainable energy future and building a cleaner and greener New York,” he stated in a press release heralding AOE’s new anaerobic digester. “This first-of-its kind project for Long Island and the greater New York metropolitan area will build upon this administration’s commitment to expand the state’s use of renewable energy and reduce our carbon footprint.”
NYS DEC Acting Commissioner Gerstman and Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine joined Cuomo in voicing their support as well.
“The Department is committed to working with communities and businesses to expand and enhance organics diversion and use in order to conserve existing resources, reduce environmental impacts and promote alternative uses of previously wasted materials,” Gerstman stated in a shared press release with Romaine and Cuomo. “This project demonstrates that excess food and food scraps, that cannot be donated or used for animal feed, are resources that can be used to generate clean energy with the end products being recycled into a valuable soil amendment. This outstanding project will help New York lead the way in these efforts."
“The Anaerobic Digester at Long Island Compost will, among other advantages, be a step in the right direction to improve air quality for Yaphank residents that live near the facility,” stated Romaine. “This is another example of how government can work with the private sector to promote sustainability and produce a greater benefit to the environment. I look forward to seeing other companies get on board with the Governor's initiative."