Growing up in Brazil, Julia Chen McClanan spent her school holidays in the countryside where she remembers seeing black ashes floating in the air.
“I witnessed firsthand what pollution, overcrowding and a lack of environmental policies and community engagement can do to our planet,” said McClanan, explaining that only later would she come to realize that the ashy air of her youth was the result of slash and burn farming practices.
Born and raised in Brazil, McClanan moved to Scarsdale last year with her husband and children, after living in multiple cities throughout the world, including São Paulo, London, Hong Kong and, most recently, New York City.
“When we moved to Scarsdale one of the first things I wanted to do was sign up for the composting program … What I found in my day-to-day experience living in megalopolises is that individuals who are really environmentally conscious need to go the extra mile to find a composting or recycling center. You really need to put an extra effort out of your daily routine,” she said, adding that the composting program in Scarsdale is set up to make it easy to adopt without changing one’s daily routine.
“I think [as a family] we are still far from zero waste,” she said, “but we do try to make sure that everything that can be recycled doesn’t go to landfills, [and] in Scarsdale the recycling center can take a lot more different types of materials than in NYC.”
Scarsdale’s Conservation Advisory Council (CAC) has recently been working to promote and support “zero waste living” in the village. While the CAC’s mandate is to advise the board of trustees on conservation issues, the council also proposes, promotes and monitors local sustainability initiatives. “Zero waste living” is one of those.
“Zero waste living is when you try and live as best as you can in what's called a closed loop,” CAC chair Michelle Sterling explained. “So for example, with food scrap recycling you're really contributing to closed loop living because your food comes from the earth, and then bones and peels go into the food scrap [and] that gets turned into compost, which is a soil amendment and helps grow new food.”
“That's really what we're trying to provide to residents,” Sterling continued. “We're trying to provide people with the ability to reuse, recycle, and live a zero waste lifestyle. And we’re really getting there.”
Over the last few years the CAC has implemented a variety of recycling initiatives that provide residents with the ability to limit the amount of bulk waste produced, consequently decreasing the amount of trash that makes its way into landfills.
Through a partnership with the Department of Public Works, Scarsdale residents can opt in to have their food scraps, paper recycling, and plastic, glass and metal cartons picked up directly from their houses. Many other products can be brought to the Scarsdale Recycling Center, which is centrally located at 110 Secor Road.
Recently the CAC implemented a cooking oil recycling program, as well as a plastic bag and film recycling program so that common and typically nonrecyclable plastics (plastic shopping bags, cereal bags, product packaging, packing plastic, etc.) can be disposed of in a more sustainable way. Through a partnership with the company Trex, all plastic bags and film collected is converted by Trex into plastic decking, railing, fencing and furniture.
Since 2015 the Scarsdale Recycling Center has also provided a textile recycling service where unwanted clothing and other textiles (in good condition or torn) can be dropped off. Other items that can be brought to 110 Secor Road for recycling include electronic waste and tennis balls.
According to Tyler Seifert in Scarsdale’s Department of Public Works, textiles are sold to a textile recycling company that sorts the textiles by condition and repurposes or recycles them. The company that Scarsdale contracts with is County Recycling. Electronics are brought to a facility that takes them apart and separates each component which is then recycled. Westchester County provides the village with a storage pod for the electronics brought in by residents, then handles the process for goods left at the pod. Tennis balls are sent to a recycling company where they are ground up and then used as a subsurface for new tennis courts.
There is also a “Furniture Donation Bin” where used furniture can be dropped off for others to take, as well as a “Take it or Leave it” shed for items that one no longer wants, but are in usable condition, such as sporting goods, toys, household items, tools and gardening equipment. Seifert said via email that furnishings dropped off at the Scarsdale sanitation yard are donated to Furniture Sharehouse, a nonprofit organization that provides household furnishings free of charge to economically disadvantaged Westchester individuals and families. The “take it or leave it” shed provides a place where residents can drop off any item in usable condition and take any item that they can use. If an item has been sitting for a while and no one has taken it, the item is discarded in the trash. However, the take/leave shed has been closed for the past year due to the pandemic.
Scarsdale resident Charlotte Mortreux is one who takes advantage of all the recycling center services. Originally from France, Mortreux has been living in the village with her husband and four children for almost 10 years. Though she has been interested in sustainability since her early 20s when she worked for an environmental management company in France, Mortreux has been living as “earth-friendly” a lifestyle as possible since settling in Scarsdale. In addition to recycling, composting, and bringing her plastics, cooking oil and textiles to the Secor Road recycling center, Mortreux has a vegetable garden in her backyard, buys in bulk, and makes her own sponges and cleaning products. She also purchases as many items as she can second hand from Facebook Market, Craigslist, church tag sales and thrift stores.
More than that, however, Mortreux tries to avoid purchasing anything she doesn’t explicitly need in the first place. “For me it's beneficial to reduce what we consume first,” Mortreux said. “You realize that it's healthier for you and for the earth. What is earth-friendly is health-friendly. [For example] if you reduce chemicals, it's good for the earth and it's good for your health. It's a holistic approach.”
Mortreux explained that she follows the 5R method from Bea Johnson’s “Zero Waste Home” — “Refuse (what you don’t need), Reduce (what you need), Reuse (what you can), Recycle (what can be) and Rot,” she recited.
Mortreux also follows the French “BISOU” method which, according to Mortreux, “has helped me change the way I shop, and it also helps me explain to my kids why I don’t buy them the latest trendy thing everyone has that will last for a season.”
BISOU is an acronym for:
B=Besoin=Need: Do I need this?
I= Immédiat=Immediately: Do I need this now?
S=Semblable=Similar: Do I already have a similar item?
O=Origine=Origin: Where does this come from?
U=Utile=Useful: Will I really use this long term?
In 2019 Sterling and Ron Schulhof, previous CAC chair and current CAC member, were winners of the Municipal Category Award at the Environmental Leadership Awards ceremony held by the Rye Sustainability Committee. They were recognized for their work in launching sustainability initiatives throughout Scarsdale and Westchester County.
“Together they have helped all seven Scarsdale Schools, a number of Scarsdale Houses of Worship and Scarsdale Village launch food scrap recycling and zero waste programs. Their efforts have made a tremendous impact within the Scarsdale community as well as throughout Westchester as other municipalities, schools and organizations have come to Scarsdale to learn and launch their own zero waste programs,” reads a press release from the awards ceremony.
Indeed, it was through her son’s school that Veena Rangaraj first heard about Scarsdale’s food composting program. “I was already collecting [paper and plastic] recyclables, and then Michelle [Sterling] started the food composting program. She was promoting that in Greenacres Elementary School so I signed up for it then and ever since I've been collecting food scraps as well,” Rangaraj explained.
“I don’t throw out most things,” she continued. “[Recycling] is part of my routine … [I put my trash out] just once a week as I hardly have anything to throw in my dustbin. Most of it goes into recyclables and food compost.”
Before the pandemic Rangaraj even picked up a few bags of the compost that is made from recycled food scraps from the Scarsdale Recycling Center. More recently she has brought plastic packaging and some clothing items to the Secor Road center, and she has used the center as a drop-off spot in the past for electronics that have stopped working, as well as household items such as pots and pans that her family was no longer using.
“It's easy for us here,” Rangaraj said, referring to the facility of sustainable living in Scarsdale. “All the schools [here] are promoting this, so the schoolchildren are also learning how to separate compost and trash,” Rangaraj added.
Joan Frederick, a longtime agent for Houlihan Lawrence real estate, said she “loves all the progressive things Scarsdale does” and gives prospective homebuyers a tour of the recycling center, which is “the busiest place in town on Saturdays.”
“People love it,” she said. “People are amazed by the center and the food scrapping program.”
A native of Scarsdale, Frederick remembers the days when the village burned trash at the center and smoke billowed out from the smoke stack on Secor Road. But now, everyone seems to be “very good about recycling” and Frederick has embraced the food scrap program to the extent that she gives a food scrapping kit as a “new homeowners gift” to clients. When she follows up, they tell her everyone in the family participates, and multiple generations are learning about zero waste living.
In fact, for Diksha Mudbhary, it was at the insistence of her then-5-year-old son that her family started composting. When they first moved into Scarsdale from New York City three years ago, Mudbhary attended a Scarsdale Neighborhood Associations’ hosted Fourth of July event where Sterling was promoting the composting program.
“We had just moved to town and were a little overwhelmed with all of the things that go along with home ownership, but that was the first [time] I heard of Scarsdale’s zero waste efforts,” Mudbhary said. “We didn't actually join until my son, who at the time was going to an amazing Quaker preschool in Scarsdale, started coming home and asking when we’re going to start composting and doing even more at home around sustainability ... It was really him kind of badgering me that made me go to the sanitation center and pick up the composting bin.”
“I have to say, Scarsdale makes it so easy,” Mudbhary added. “The village is doing such an amazing job by offering us these opportunities and I wish more people were participating. It feels really good to live in a community that cares about the environment … I feel proud to be in a community that prioritizes this and [I am] impressed that we are forward thinking that way. It's not very common that communities are offering such an array of resources around sustainability.”
Climate Smart Task Force
Continuing the village’s commitment to sustainability, the Scarsdale Board of Trustees passed a resolution Feb. 23 establishing a Climate Smart Communities Task Force as an advisory body to the village board. The task force is comprised of all members of the existing Conservation Advisory Council (CAC), with Scarsdale resident and CAC chair Michelle Sterling serving as the task force coordinator.
Viewing climate change as “a real and increasing threat exhibiting the potential for significant harmful disruption to natural and human systems, including environmental, social and economic impacts,” the village board adopted a resolution a year ago, on Feb. 11, 2020, to join the growing cadre of climate smart communities.
The New York State Climate Smart Communities (CSC) program was established to help local governments lead their communities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, adapt to the effects of climate change and thrive in a green economy.
The CSC program mandates that the village create a task force, which will develop, recommend and assist as needed with implementing context sensitive strategies and activities to support CSC goals. The task force's first order of business will be to draft and present, for village board review and approval, a work plan which shall be updated and approved annually.
After the board unanimously adopted the resolution, Mayor Marc Samwick said, “This is something that we're very excited about and we think there are a lot of opportunities to enhance the village to find increased sources of funding for climate smart investments.”
— with reporting by Valerie Abrahams