Former Volunteer Teacher Transforms Food Waste Into Fertilizer In NYC

Every year about 12,000 tons of food waste in New York City finds its way to compost and resource recovery facilities. The food that doesn’t make it to compost sites makes up about 19 percent of waste in landfills and contributes to greenhouse gases. Thankfully, one woman decided to do something about it. In fact, she found an innovative way to divert 438,000 pounds of food waste from landfills and help communities in need. How so? Her Re-Nuble uses food waste to create an organic, non-toxic fertilizer that is both affordable and accessible.

Where did her passion for this project come from? Tinia Pina discovered the deeper issue of food waste while volunteering as a teacher for SAT prep in Harlem. She saw that while there was a lack of healthy food for the kids, there was also a huge amount of organic waste being thrown away in the city. The amount of wasted food and the lack of affordable organic produce struck a cord with Pina and she decided to create an organic fertilizer from waste to offer people a natural alternative to synthetic materials. This would then make it easier for anyone to grow organic food for themselves and others.  

In an effort to reduce waste, every gallon of Re-Nuble equates to about four pounds of organic produce that would have otherwise been taken to landfills. By taking food that wasn't eaten by humans or animals and making it a valuable resource, Re-Nuble is closing the agricultural loop in a sustainable way. In fact, the Brooklyn based company is able to process 1,200 pounds of waste daily in a system that uses less energy than most households. How does this work? A machine extracts nutrients when water is added to the waste and heated. Notably, Re-Nuble is committed to using only organic certified, plant-based waste materials. 

The end product is a 100 percent natural fertilizer which allegedly performs as well as chemical fertilizers, but is more affordable. While the final product is not certified organic right now, Re-Nuble is waiting to be certified. Still, attaining the certification might be an uphill battle, and victory hinges on the federal government’s interpretation of what it means to be “organic.”

Recently Pina has tackled the federal certified organic guidelines head on as the government debates whether liquid fertilizer can be considered organic. Hydroponics is a form of soilless, or liquid, farming that Pina believes is essential in promoting fair prices for organic and healthy food. Pina tells Innovateli that soilless farming should have the same opportunity to be labeled organic because such farming encourages “a more holistic and inclusive agriculture industry.” 

Inner cities and areas like Harlem are too often far from farms and fresh produce. Being able to grow plants without soil is key because a hydroponic garden or farm can grow a lot of produce but requires less space than traditional soil farming. Pina is determined to prove how composting components found in soil can be replicated in hydroponics farming. 

In the meantime, Re-Nuble continues to make positive change by upcycling waste to create a non-GMO fertilizers for plants. As the company continues to perfect their formulas, they are on track to making eco-friendly fertilizers that anyone can afford. Whether you grow flowers on a commercial scale or vegetables as a hobby, the company supports any grower interested in safe and sustainable nutrients for their plants.  

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