Why New York City Community Composters Are Critical To City-Wide Implementation

New York City Food Waste & Community Composting

“Although its absolutely wonderful news in many respects, many of us in the community composting world are finding that the discourse is evolving in unhealthy terms for community composting.  Specifically, we’re hearing the message that curbside pickup, once citywide, will kill community composting.”
— David Buckel, NYC Community Composter

Bloomberg Aims To Require Food Composting In New York CityOn Monday, June 17, a front-page headline in the New York Times read: “Bloomberg Plan Aims To Require Food Composting: Biggest Expansion of Recycling Program Since ‘89”.  Essentially, the Mayor wants to expand existing pilot curbside collection programs for residential food waste citywide , and intends to propose legislation that would require restaurants and food businesses to recycle their food waste. What an incredible boost to those of us who have been advocating these bold steps for decades.

Quickly, the discussion is shifting to developing the infrastructure needed to process New York City’s household food waste, and how to get residents to participate. Just by coincidence, BioCycle editors spent the day following Mayor Bloomberg’s announcement in New York City, touring community composting sites. There are more than 200 of these initiatives throughout New York City, composting organics on a variety Community Composting New York City Food Wasteof scales. The tour on June 18 included two community gardens in the Lower East Side of Manhattan doing composting of household food scraps and another one in the Bronx, and a larger-scale composting facility on Governor’s Island that receives close to 2 tons/week of food waste dropped off by residents at New York City Green Markets.

David Buckel — a community composting consultant in New York City who is developing several projects, the largest of which is the Red Hook Community Farm at 225 tons/year — was told by one of the City’s giants in recycling that he should “get ready for a big ‘hit’ after curbside pickup starts, because small-scale composting will have served its purpose as a bridge to curbside pickup, and will wither.” Buckel sent a Commentary in response to this “challenge,” which appears in the July issue of BioCycle. He emphasizes the following in the Commentary:

“Local as possible is still best even if there’s no choice but to centralize some of the rest. That does not mean we choose large or small. That means we work hard to develop as much capacity as we can on the neighborhood or community level, and then, for the remaining organics left to manage, we welcome and are grateful for key partners in organics recovery, such as environmentally responsible municipal curbside pickup programs, commercial haulers, and large-scale organics recyclers.”

Robin Barton, a member of the Manhattan Solid Waste Advisory Board and a community composting advocate,  emphasizes that New York City needs to be a leader in not just food scrap diversion, but on how to compost successfully, and that includes partnering centralized composting with community composting, where one learns the importance of removing contaminants — the key detriment to all composting facilities — and gives a choice to live as sustainable as possible by closing the loop as tightly as possible.

What Do You Think?

We welcome your thoughts on this emerging discourse about how the largest city in the U.S. can divert residential food waste from disposal. You can add your comment at the bottom of this page.

06/28 Update: New York City Council Testimonial Video. At 00:56:00, Helena Durst (The Durst Organziation), Christine Datz-Romero (Lower East Side Ecology Center), Robin Barton (Manhattan Solid Waste Advisory Board, Community Composting Advocate) and Eric Goldstein (NRDC) present testimony on June 27.

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