Elizabeth Royte recently headed out to a remote part of Yaphank, Long Island, to talk to a man she calls the "compost king of New York." His name is Charles Vigliotti, and Royte profiles him in the New York Times, explaining how the 63-year-old plans, through his American Organic Energy company, to turn the "largely untapped" piles of food waste that accumulate in dumps into alternative energy. Vigliotti, who hails from a trash-hauling family and grew up "hanging off the back of a commercial garbage truck," explains how the $50 million anaerobic "digester" he plans on constructing within months will start churning out this resource—and how it can work even in heavily populated cities, where traditional composting processes often don't, due to space limitations and the stink factor.
What makes Vigliotti's system viable: the anaerobic aspect, meaning it uses microbes, not oxygen, to break food debris down. That means the food can be turned into either fertilizer or carbon-neutral biogas (available to produce either heat or electricity) in smaller, air-free containers that also facilitate odor control. The process also cuts out "energy-sucking bulldozers" and other machinery required for composting. Not that Vigliotti is disingenuous about what flicked on his energy-creating lightbulb. "I'd like to say I had a vision of environmental responsibility, but I saw [it] as a business opportunity," he tells Royte. What could hold back the plans of the guy with slicked-back hair and fancy suits, not typical in the "crunchy-granola world of urban compost": adhering to "staggering" regulations. Read more about Vigliotti's garbage kingdom here. (The feds are getting serious about food waste.)