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Pinsley calls for compost program

Lehigh County Controller Mark Pinsley has unveiled his proposal to implement a compost and jobs training program in Lehigh County Jail.

According to information provided by Pinsley, his proposal would reduce the county’s carbon footprint, serve as a pilot for a larger county compost program and, most importantly, provide job training to incarcerated individuals.

“Lehigh County can simultaneously address two great challenges, the climate crisis and the county’s contribution to it, and recidivism through access to employment and jobs training,” Pinsley announced on Dec. 13, 2021. “That’s a major accomplishment for the county.”

The report found inmates can produce up to 1.2 pounds of food waste per day and food waste accounts for approximately 30 percent of a jail’s total solid waste production.

This waste ends up in landfills where it breaks down producing methane which possess 80 times the warming power of carbon dioxide.

Lehigh County’s jail was estimated to produce more than 306,000 pounds of food waste per year.

The controller’s report did not evaluate other county facilities that produce food waste such as the two nursing home facilities in Fountain Hill and South Whitehall.

“The report shows that just a single county can have a significant environmental impact, and taking steps to reduce them can help Lehigh County do its part to combat climate change,” Pinsley said.

Using the Environmental Protection Agency’s emissions equivalent calculator, it was determined that Lehigh County’s food waste contributed the methane equivalent of all the energy needed to power approximately 34.8 American homes per year or driving one’s car more than 725,000 miles.

Pinsley says the proposal not only reduces the county’s carbon footprint, but could help reduce recidivism and assist in gaining employment post-incarceration.

The program would involve a 12-week course that trains inmates in horticulture and land management as implemented in the Philadelphia prison system.

It has a track record of success with 83 percent of the program participants graduating from the program, 98 percent found full-time employment, and 55 percent of them were still employed eight months later.

“Organic agriculture is a necessity for ensuring that we responsibly farm our lands in a sustainable manner,” Pinsley said. “It’s going to continue to grow as an industry and helping train incarcerated individuals to find employment is good the county, their families and the goal of reducing recidivism.”

Organic farming has been found to be competitive with conventional agriculture, produce less waste and generate significant profit, Pinsley said.