Composting is kind of gross for New Yorkers to do, right? Wrong! When I approached my oh-so-kind roommate to allow me to use our freezer to compost, I think I may have scared her a bit. The good news is she lived. The compost lives in this nice little tupperware container inside my freezer (see left) and doesn’t really bother anyone. It is also really easy for me to drop off during my Saturday errands at convenient farmers markets throughout the city.
The compost also has a great value add – it allows our trash to last a lot longer than it otherwise would, due to the lack of smell (and the infrequency that we cook), saving more plastic bags from entering landfills – or worse – The Great Pacific Garbage Patch. I estimate it has saved me a few pennies so far too – as I have had to buy plastic bags less frequently as a result. On the individual scale, I will see a very slow ROI on the initial $5 investment in my tupperware, but bear with me.
Smelly or not smelly, composting represents a really amazing opportunity to reuse and to divert waste and to save money when done on the aggregate. In Mayor Bloomberg’s State of the City Address this year, he noted that food recycling is a necessary and exciting frontier, saying:
“We bury 1.2 million tons of food waste in landfills every year at a cost of nearly $80 per ton,” he said. “That waste can be used as fertilizer or converted to energy at a much lower price. That’s good for the environment and for taxpayers.”
In June of this year, he announced plans to increase NYC’s capacity to recycle food waste (aka compost). The New York Times described the program:
Under the program, residents collect food waste — like stale bread, chicken bones and potato peels — in containers the size of picnic baskets in their homes. The contents are then deposited in larger brown bins on the curb for pickup by sanitation trucks.
Under this plan, 150,000 single-family homes, 600 schools, and over 100 high-rise buildings will recycle food waste.
The administration plans to announce shortly that it is hiring a composting plant to handle 100,000 tons of food scraps a year. That amount would represent about 10 percent of the city’s residential food waste.
A great start. Piloting programs like this allows the city to refine the offering to better suit the needs of the participants, while maintaining important services to the majority of the city. Further, smaller scale commitments allow behaviors to slowly change as kids become familiar with composting safely and appropriately in school, employees compost as part of their day at work and realize it isn’t stinking up their office, and renters see that compost can be easy if it is available in their own trash room.
This isn’t a perfect plan. New Yorkers aren’t really that great at recycling to begin with, and the number of recycling summons doesn’t really tell us this would be an overnight success. Plus, composting requires many actors to participate – and that action takes many shapes and scales. (I can tell people where I got my tupperware – T.J. Maxx by the Stock Exchange.) Loose food waste presents risks to building owners, who are looking to a) keep out pests and b) have to separate their waste or get a fine.
As the city attacks this plan, it is essential that people storing and managing the waste have access to appropriate training and supplies, and the city scales drop offs and pick ups with compost demand. Until then, you will find me at GrowNYC Greenmarket drop offs on Saturdays in TriBeCa.