Leilani Burke/Sun Staff Photographer

An A-frame is placed in the middle of the pavilion to guide customers to the correct location for dish and utensil return.

January 22, 2023

Ithaca Farmers Market Wraps Up First Year of Zero Waste Initiative, Reflects on Sustainability Efforts

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Since 1973, farmers, chefs and artisans at the Ithaca Farmers Market have delivered produce, food and crafts at the Steamboat Landing. A new addition to the market is the Zero Waste Initiative, launched in April 2022 to mitigate single use disposable waste that gathered at the end of weekend markets. 

Prior to the Zero Waste Initiative, the Ithaca Farmers Market was contributing to the 400 million tons of plastic disposable waste being produced annually. 

“About half of [the estimated 5,000 market visitors] are eating or drinking something, so the sheer volume and scale [of waste] was enormous and overflowing a six cubic yard dumpster,” Zero Waste Project Manager Judy Ward said.

The influx of waste every weekend affected the market’s facilities. 

“We have two of them and every weekend those dumpsters were overwhelmed,” Ward said. “It was overwhelming staff, as well.”

To combat the waste accumulation, the Park Foundation — focused on creating a more equitable social and natural environment — collaborated with Master Composters of Tompkins County and Dish Truck to fund Ward’s position at the market.

Master Composters of Tompkins County is a Cornell Cooperative Extension program that groups volunteers to educate the public about composting while Dish Truck is a community organization that provides clean, reusable dishes to events in the Finger Lakes region. 

Under her initiative, Ward set up a recycling program and installed six places around IFM for recyclable items. Ward additionally introduced back-of-the-house composting, which allows food vendors to compost their food items. 

However, IFM staff members realized that recycling and composting would not eliminate the primary issue of single use disposables. As a result, in partnership with Dish Truck, Ward introduced reusable dishes in Aug. 2022. Since then, IFM has managed to prevent 11,000 bowls, cups and plates in addition to 8,000 single-use plastic forks from going to the landfill. 

Despite the success of the program, Ward mentioned that her team faces difficulties cleaning dishes every weekend. 

“We pack everything up, put it in our vehicles, drive it over, run it through the commercial dishwasher [at Cornell Cooperative Extension], make sure it’s dry and pack it up for the next day,” Ward said. 

Ward is currently in the process of applying for funds for an onsite dishwasher to reduce traveling times to the CCE dishwasher site. She noted that vendors, staff members and customers have also been receptive to this new initiative, though there are a handful who still do not know where to return their dishes or retrieve new ones. 

In addition to these programs, IFM has also partnered with Zero Waste Ithaca and Ithaca Reduces to host a Bring Your Own Container campaign, further promoting the mission of environmental consciousness. 

Vendors can participate in this campaign by placing a sticker at their booth with Zero Waste Ithaca’s symbol, indicating that the vendors allow customers to bring their personal containers, further eliminating waste build up. 

“That’s always a great solution, especially if you want to get a lot of food and just want to eat half and you can take the rest of it home,” Ward said.

Dish return stations can be found in two places at IFM: At the main trash station and near the bathrooms.