Sustainable Westchester is a not-for-profit organization whose mission is to promote and develop sustainable frameworks for the County of Westchester, which includes more than 40 municipalities. The organization is set up as a membership system and includes impacts and solution development for each member municipality.
One of Sustainable Westchester’s current initiatives is a study on the improvement of the current food waste processing, primarily handled by incinerators at the moment. The client provided us with seven options to analyze for this study, along with some aspirational examples of solutions. The study was not meant to recommend one specific solution as a winner but rather to conduct a preliminary analysis on the main components of each, reflect on how they might be applied to Westchester and to provide a final overview of which solution or combination thereof could be taken into further consideration for a potential application in one or more of the target municipalities. The seven solutions analyzed were:
- Co-digestion in wastewater treatment plant
- Large-scale anaerobic digestion
- Community-scale anaerobic digestion
- Household anaerobic digestion
- Large-scale composting
- Community-scale composting
- Household backyard composting
Our kickoff meeting with the client established the type of analysis to be conducted, options for the deliverable, and any considerations to be made in our analysis. Furthermore, we were provided some contacts for scenarios, while others relied principally on bibliographical research.
The process was mainly divided in four steps:
- Introductory meetings with the client to lay out work plan and identify what other information or support the client can provide
- Research and Information collection:
- Interview with experts and stakeholders
- Bibliographical / internet research to find comparable solutions in similarly sized areas. This also helped assess the viability of one solution compared to another for Westchester specifically
- Interviews with neighbors (one of the team members, Andrew, is a resident and had direct contact with members of the community to gather information)
- Interviews with leaders in waste management solutions (e.g. a meeting to collect information from Quasar)
- Visiting the Yonkers Wastewater treatment plant
- Developing the assessment criteria for each of the seven solutions, in order to:
- Ensure that we can efficiently compare them when presenting to the client
- Compare different solutions in a similar method, within the context of Westchester county. For example, we conducted a social impact assessment for each city’s potential solution
- Assembling research, conclusions and developing the final matrix with supporting information in the report
Perhaps the most prominent challenge in this project, both at the planning stage and the execution was the comparison of scenarios of radically different sizes. As we were given seven possible solutions for a problem, we attempted to compare our solutions and analyses with metrics such as financial investment, waste inputs and land required among others. This proved to be challenging due to the lack of specific “boundaries” set forth by the client. For example, when assessing whether a large-scale water treatment plant was better than a large-scale composting facility, we were not able to conduct a full analysis as we did not have a decision making position in terms of allocating capital for each investment.
Surprises that we encountered throughout, which turned into important learning experiences, were:
- Along with its increased technical requirements, how expensive anaerobic digestion is compared to aerobic
- Assessing several different solutions for a set of municipalities in the same county that have different socioeconomic status and needs, and therefore varying viability for any given solution
The deliverable for this project is a matrix which presents each of the 7 solutions, along with a series of primary categories of assessment. In each category of assessment is an indicator (High, Medium, Low) which reflects the research conducted for the solution in question in the context of its applicability to Westchester County.
By developing this matrix, we are able to quickly and efficiently present which of the solutions are a potential topic for further discussion, and which are unadvisable even at a preliminary level of analysis. We believe that this output is a useful and concise summary of our analysis and by including it in a longer report we are able to provide more detail as to the logic and data supporting the results indicated in the table.
Through this project, our team learned the complexity of developing truly sustainable and viable solutions for urban areas. We gained experiences comparing seemingly incomparable scenarios and solutions with little to no parameters, which enabled us to improve our positions as independent thinkers and promoters of a sustainable mindset throughout our work and lives. Working in a team with diverse academic and professional backgrounds., we were empowered to draw from past experiences and bring new perspectives and ideas to the task at hand. We are pleased to know we have contributed the first step of a meaningful and socially important transition for how an entire county can handle waste management and ultimately benefit its citizens.