Residents will be required to sort out organic waste, like recycling. On June 8, 2023, the City Council voted to approve the Zero Waste Act, a package of bills aimed at reducing the amount of organic waste in landfills. The Zero Waste Act consists of five bills, including the creation of a mandatory organic waste curbside collection program.
Int 244-A, sponsored by Speaker Adrienne Adams and Council Member Shahana Hanif, establishes a mandatory residential organics collection program citywide. Residents will be required to separate both yard and organic waste like food scraps for regular weekly curbside collection, similar to how recycling must be separated from trash for curbside disposal.
Earlier this year, Mayor Eric Adams and the Department of Sanitation announced the rollout of a citywide organics collection program built off a successful pilot program in Queens. The Queens pilot program saw 12.7 million pounds of organic waste diverted. While the administration already planned on rolling out the organics waste collection program citywide by October 2024, the Council’s program is mandatory, while the Mayor’s program featured voluntary participation. Under the Council’s bill, the mandatory program will also need to be implemented citywide by October 2024.
The bill requires the Department of Sanitation to develop an implementation plan for an organic waste collection program and submit the plan to the City Council by July 1. The Department of Sanitation is also required to report the weight of the total amount of organic waste diverted, develop an education and outreach campaign, and develop the administrative rules for the program. The agency will also have to distribute rodent-proof organics collection bins.
The penalties for failing to properly sort out organic waste will be the same penalties for failing to properly sort out recycling materials. Residential buildings with less than nine dwelling units will get $25 for the first fine, $50 for the second, and $100 for every subsequent fine within a period of twelve months. Residential buildings with nine units or more can face fines of $100 for the first violation, $200 for the second violation, and $400 for the third violation. Until April 1, 2025, however, the first violation will only result in a warning.
In addition to the creation of the permanent program, the Zero Waste Act includes four more bills. Int. 274-A, sponsored by Council Member Sandy Nurse, establishes a goal of zero divertable waste for the city by 2030. The Department of Sanitation must report to the Council if this goal cannot be reached. Int. 275-A, also sponsored by Council Member Nurse, requires the Department of Sanitation to report on the agency’s efforts to increase waste diversion rates. The report will include information on specific materials and recyclability, and efforts to recycle materials collected in public litter baskets.
Int. 280-B, sponsored by Majority Leader Keith Powers, requires the Department of Sanitation to create community recycling centers in each borough to collect materials that are not collected through curbside collection but can still be recycled or reused. Int. 281-B, also sponsored by Majority Leader Powers, requires the Department of Sanitation to establish a minimum number of organic waste collection drop off sites in each borough. The agency will post information about both community recycling centers and drop sites online, and will be required to report on site usage to the City Council.
Council Member Hanif stated, “As a frontline and coastal community, it is essential to our City’s long-term survival that we act to address climate change. Today, New York City takes its rightful place as a global leader in the fight against a climate catastrophe. ’m thrilled to be standing arm-in-arm with climate activists to enthusiastically celebrate the passage of our Zero Waste package. After a year of difficult negotiations and strong advocacy, we are finally ensuring that our City’s composting program is mandatory, local composting capacity is expanded, and our Zero Waste commitments are written into law. This is an incredible victory for our City.”
Council Member Nurse, Chair of the Committee on Sanitation, stated, “The Zero Waste Act is a major environmental justice victory for New York City and beyond. These bills are an act of solidarity with predominantly low-income and communities of color living near landfills and incinerators in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania – communities that are fighting to protect their land, air, and health – where we send our waste. After fighting for environmental justice for years as a grassroots activist, I’m proud to have led the charge in the Council for this package.
Majority Leader Powers stated, “Today’s vote on the Zero Waste Act is a major milestone in advancing our climate and sustainability goals. I am proud to have helped champion a comprehensive package that expands access to equitable recycling and universal composting. As recent, devastating wildfires and historic air pollution have vividly shown us, it is crucial we act now to protect our environment and create a better, greener future for us all.”
By: Veronica Rose (Veronica is the CityLaw fellow and a New York Law School graduate, Class of 2018.)