Vivaria Ecologics launching to tackle food waste in New Jersey

Vivaria Ecologics is reimagining how it approaches food systems by closing the loop on food waste.

Founder and President Christina PioCosta-Lahue developed plans to launch Vivaria Ecologics last year, eying a pilot project for a composting facility on a farm owned by her family since the 1960s in Mansfield, Warren County. The facility will help reduce food waste and convert it into valuable compost, which in turn helps enrich soil for agricultural and landscaping applications. Vivaria Ecologics is also working on plans to continue farming on the portion of property that is not being utilized for composting. And it is also having preliminary conversations in other parts of the state about how underutilized land can be taken and used to work to reduce food waste.

Vivaria Ecologics site plan.

PioCosta-Lahue is CEO of Rensselaer Commercial Properties, a commercial real estate firm based in Fairfield.

“We had this piece of working farmland in Warren County that has been in our family for generations,” PioCosta-Lahue said. “When I took over as CEO of Rensselaer Commercial Properties, I looked at our entire portfolio to see where we could make more efficient and beneficial use of land. I saw a lot of opportunity at the Blau Road Farm, as we call it, to both preserve agricultural heritage, while bringing a new economic development opportunity to the community.”

Every year, an estimated 5.7 million tons of food waste goes to landfill in the state of New Jersey alone, according to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s 2020 80×50 Report. Food waste that gets sent to landfill generates methane — a potent greenhouse gas. Vivaria seeks to put food waste to work through developing food waste recycling options that generate clean, valuable compost.

A new law in New Jersey took effect in October 2021 that requires large producers of food waste to recycle food scraps instead of sending them to landfill if there is a facility within 50 road miles. Currently, there is not nearly enough recycling capacity available to meet the state’s food waste reduction objectives. Vivaria Ecologics plans to use aerated static pile technology for its sites.

ASP enables more efficient processing of food waste, while significantly reducing the possibility of odor escape and contamination.

“To make a meaningful impact on food waste, we need to be able to bring these types of facilities online,” PioCosta-Lahue said. “In addition to reducing food waste, we’d be expanding access to compost. By increasing access to compost, you effectively strengthen local food systems. Currently, if you need large amounts of compost for agricultural, landscaping or construction purposes in New Jersey, you most likely have to ship it in from out of state, which is problematic in and of itself.”

The name “Vivaria Ecologics” stems from the Latin “Vivaria,” meaning “places of life,” and “Ecologics,” stemming from the word “ecological”, the study of the relationships between living organisms.

“Beyond composting, we’re going to look at entire food systems, from the production of food and supply chains, to how food is marketed and distributed to local communities,” PioCosta-Lahue said of the future.