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New York City Roles Out Comprehensive Composting Program

NYC Roles Out Comprehensive Composting Program

It only took three years for New York City, with a population of 8.5 million, to launch a comprehensive composting program for homes, businesses, and schools. Today, New York City’s kerbside food-scrap collection program has reached 3.3 million residents.

So how did New York City do this?

For several years, environmental groups and forward thinking residents ran sanctioned and unofficial composting sites on city land. Food-scrap drop-off sites opened at farmers markets, parks and outside subway stations.

In 2013, seeing composting as an opportunity to address climate change, Mayor Michael Bloomberg championed a citywide program as one of his final initiatives in office. Composting curbs greenhouse-gas emissions and saves money by reducing the amount of waste trucked and shipped by rail to landfills, which costs NY about $105 a ton.

To encourage more composting, the New York City Council passed two laws to launch residential food-scrap collection and guidelines for diverting commercial waste from landfills. There were sceptics, even in the environmental community, who envisioned neglected piles of smelly, rotting food.

Education the key

However, with funding from the city’s Department of Sanitation, groups such as GrowNYC and the Lower East Side Ecology Centre taught classes on sustainability and composting to residents in their respective boroughs. As part of the NYC Compost Project, each group organized drop-off locations and managed a composting yard. First-time compost participants completed online training before receiving a pass code to bins at the drop-off sites.

Meanwhile, the sanitation department launched a separate program for kerbside collection with a neighbourhood in Staten Island and 100 schools as the first participants. A new brown bin joined the recycling and trash bins. The bins were emptied by trucks already collecting leaf and yard waste. Municipal employees managed the program and worked out any snags. Initially, the food scrap was sent to two composting sites and one anaerobic digester within the city.

Less than 1 percent contamination

Even though New York had a poor recycling rate, it was still able to make room for food-scrap diversion in its waste management program. The Staten Island collection reached a respectable 43 percent participation rate, with a contamination rate of less than 1 percent.

New neighbourhoods, schools and high-rise apartments were added to the kerbside program. As of the end of 2017, kerbside collection reached 3.3 million New Yorkers. The drop-off program reached a collection milestone of 10 million pounds in December. By the end of 2018, all residents are expected to have access to municipal kerbside collection or drop-off sites.

Zero Waste Challenge

Progress continues under Mayor Bill de Blasio, who launched the next goal: Zero Waste Challenge. The program is underway at several public schools. In addition to composting and aggressive recycling, the aim is to eliminate waste by 2030 through reuse programs, pay-as-you-throw trash collection and greater recycling of textiles and electronics.

New York’s success demonstrates what can be achieved through careful planning, effective engagements, communication and education.

Modified from an original post by ecoRi News