New York City Launches Borough-Wide Curbside Composting for the First Time | New York

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Jhe problem of food waste in New York City went viral a few years ago when a rodent was filmed dragging a slice of what could have been a slice of margherita pizza down the steps of a subway station . That’s how the world discovered Pizza Rat. Since then, its ranks have been joined by Avocado Rat and Pretzel Rat.

But now, in at least much of the city, the food rats may be getting fewer and fewer. The largest city in the United States is launching an equally important organic waste composting program, which will turn the food and vegetable waste of 2.2 million residents into soil for urban parks and community gardens, and a source energy called biogas.

The project in Queens is the first time an entire borough will automatically receive the service, no registration required. Sanitation Commissioner Jessica Tisch calls the potential contents of these bins “the city’s greatest untapped opportunity.” [diverting waste]from the landfill.

According to Tisch, of the 24 million pounds of trash and recycling collected daily from New York City residences, organic waste accounts for one-third. And she estimates that less than 1% of this organic waste escapes from the landfill.

DSNY Queens Community 1 District Garage Supervisor Adrian McDermott speaks to fellow sanitation workers before they begin their morning commute. Photography: Rengim Mutevellioglu/The Guardian

Earlier this week, Department of Sanitation (DSNY) trucks began driving through Queens to empty hundreds of thousands of new brown bins of their (sometimes smelly) contents.

Barbara Alafogianis, a longtime resident of Astoria and owner of a two-family home there, thinks the program is “long overdue.” She started composting a few years ago when she first noticed trash cans in her neighborhood. “I just think it’s wonderful to be able to dispose of it in a way that doesn’t add to our landfill,” she says.

A person wearing orange gloves operating the latch of a brown trash can
Sanitation workers carrying garbage early in the morning.
Top: Brown trash cans distributed by DSNY are equipped with latches to keep animals out. Above: DSNY sanitation workers Joseph Mohr and Andrew Bata haul out early morning trash. Photography: Rengim Mutevellioglu/The Guardian

Currently, optional curbside composting is only available in a handful of community councils in Manhattan, Brooklyn and the Bronx — and adding new neighborhoods has been suspended “until further notice,” according to the webpage. of the city on the service.

“We are working with the new city administration to evaluate the program and determine the best service model to help New Yorkers divert food waste from landfills,” a page on the city’s website reads.

New York Mayor Eric Adams, who was elected last year, first campaigned on citywide composting but then halted his expansion, saying there was no not enough people to justify the expense.

But conditions seemed to be perfect in Queens. On the one hand, residents of parts of western Queens like Astoria have been pushing for an organic waste program.

A man handing out a trash bag to another man wearing a neon green vest
A resident hands a garbage bag to Joseph Mohr. Most of the city’s organic waste currently ends up in landfills. Photography: Rengim Mutevellioglu/The Guardian

During the pandemic, Astoria resident Lou Reyes created an Instagram account with partner Caren Tedesco after the city cut its food waste collection program. Their account, under the handle @astoriapug for the couple’s senior dog that has become the effort’s mascot, posts information about food waste collections and partners with local farms to drop it off.

Reyes says this is the first time he’s seen a robust plan from the city to divert leftover food from landfills. Older curbside composting programs were much harder to join and required approval from landlords.

“You don’t have to fill out any forms. You don’t have to apply,” he adds. “So that in itself is easier. And when it’s easier, it’s much more appealing to people.

Meanwhile, the many trees and gardens in eastern Queens made it a great place to start collecting leaves, grass and twigs, Tisch says. And this new program cuts costs by optimizing routes, adjusting labor to reduce overtime pay, and using more trucks with two separate bins – one for waste and one for organics – so that they can collect both in one shift.

Left: Joseph Mohr unlocks a brown bin before unloading it into the truck.  Right: A brown bin distributed by the DSNY sits among other containers, trash, and recycling bags outside an apartment building in Astoria, Queens.
Left: Joseph Mohr unlocks a brown bin before unloading it into the truck. Right: A brown bin sits among other containers, trash and recycling bags. Photography: Rengim Mutevellioglu/The Guardian

The city has tried to publicize the program in various ways. The city says it mailed every resident of Queens, sent uniformed health workers to knock on the doors of all buildings with one to nine units, and “bought numerous community and ethnic media ads” while debuting. with the program’s mascot, Scrappy, on social media. This fall, the city is also adding 250 new compost bins to the streets of the five boroughs that can be opened via a smartphone app or key card and are available 24/7.

Curbside composting in Queens will take a break from late December through March, when there will be little to no yard waste. The hope is that by next winter people will have developed the “muscle memory” of food waste separation and there will be enough to drive the program on its own.

A brown trash can and a plastic bag full of trash are lying on the sidewalk
The brown bins distributed by the DSNY are brought to the curb with the trash bags on designated recycling days. Photography: Rengim Mutevellioglu/The Guardian

Reyes hopes New York City will eventually adopt a mandatory universal curbside program, like the one already in place for recycling. City council member Shahana Hanif, who this year sponsored a bill that would do just that, says the city currently lacks sanitation infrastructure and manpower to process organic waste in all five boroughs. , but she hopes legislation can change that.

“Curbside composting is one of the easiest ways for New Yorkers to reduce their carbon footprint,” she says. “The ability to bring your food scraps from your kitchen to your brown bin can help neighborhoods significantly reduce their waste and impact on the environment. »

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