New York's final food frontier
By Olivia Evans



When it comes to food, New York City has pretty much everything going on. Michelin-rated restaurants, Central Park food carts, budding urban gardens—all that seemed to be missing was a proper food waste disposal system at the tail end.

But all of that is changing. Soon, Mayor Bloomberg will announce his plan to require the city’s 8.4 million residents to compost by 2016. Food scraps make up about 1.2 million tons, or 35% of the city’s landfill waste every year. Since special landfill delivery service to states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina costs nearly $80 a ton, a composting program could save taxpayers up to $100 million annually.

That’s big cash. And yet, a composting program would also have a positive impact on the environment and nation’s food security. Food scraps in landfills are a significant source of greenhouse gases. These scraps could be used to make natural gas and cut back on methane emissions that cause climate change. Meanwhile, a USDA report estimated that for the average 130 pounds of food per person that ends up in landfills, 49 million hungry people in the United States could be fed. All that’s needed is for our compost to be turned into dirt and fertilizer to grow new crops.

Compost veterans, San Francisco, Seattle, and Portland, inspired New York City’s initiative. San Francisco led the charge towards proper food waste disposal in 2009 when it made composting mandatory for every household. Since then, the city has achieved an impressive 80 percent landfill diversion rate. The Big Apple hopes to catch up, with plans to boost its diversion rate from 13 percent to 75 percent by 2030.

So, what will this mean for the average New Yorker?

Each household will receive a small brown bin which when full, can be placed onto the curb for garbage truck pick up. Apartment dwellers will empty their bins into communal collection points, similar to how they do now with recycling. Little to many realize, bins can be filled with much more than just food scraps—paper towels, garden prunings, and even cotton balls are fair game too. “It’s revolutionary for New York,” said Eric Goldstein from the Natural Resources Defense Council, “soon there’ll be very little trash left for homeowners to put in their trash cans.”

Concerns, of course, have been raised. Many New Yorkers have turned up their noses at the thought of having a bucket of pure stench oozing from the bottom of their sink. Staten Island resident, Ellen Felci (62), however, noted that with regular disposal hardly any smell came from the bin at all. The political minded have pondered whether the program will continue after Mayor Bloomberg leaves office in December. Yet front-runner Democratic candidates Christine Quinn, Bill de Blasio and Sal Albanese have each expressed support and commitment to the cause.

Previously, New York had always been hesitant to implement a composting program because of the city’s density and skyscraper verticality. But now even the Big Apple is taking on the zero food waste challenge. The challenge is daunting, but also inspiring. If New York can handle it, who can’t?


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commented 2013-06-26 15:25:40 -0400 · Flag
Gre at idea. Now, maybe D.C. and Baltimore will give it a try. My husband and I have been composting for years and have used the compost in our own garden. We live in the city and have not experienced any problems with smell, rodents, or other critters.
Ann Brennan-Zelenka