Last month, Mayor Adams announced a new plan to bring automatic, weekly curbside organic waste collection to the entire borough of Queens. Residents can order free compost bins from the New York City Department of Sanitation (DSNY), and bins will automatically be sent to buildings with 10 or more residential units.
Details of the Program
Starting October 3 and running through late December, the new program will collect leaf and yard waste as well as food scraps and soiled paper. The largest of the boroughs, Queens is home to 41 percent of the city’s trees and generates a third of the city’s organic waste. It has diverse communities and housing, providing an excellent test of the programs range—and according to Commissioner Tisch, “extreme routing, fleet, and workforce efficiencies” have reduced the per-district cost of collection to less than half that of prior composting programs.
Meanwhile, New Yorkers produce approximately eight million pounds of residential organic waste every day. Organic waste releases dangerous greenhouse gas when it decomposes in landfills, and it becomes a rat buffet of epic proportions while it sits in black bags on the curb.
The program will pause during the winter, when less organic waste is generated, but it will resume again in late March. Residents have until October 1 to order free bins from DSNY online at http://www.nyc.gov/curbsidecomposting, or they can use any bins of their own that are securely lidded to keep out pests. New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) residents may express interest in this program online at nyc.gov/QueensCompostingNYCHA.
The city plans to use the waste, once collected, to generate compost for landscaping and for the Parks Department and community gardeners. Methane gas, produced as a byproduct, can also be used as a source of renewable fuel.
Outside of Queens, DSNY has added 250 new smart compost bins in Northern Manhattan, the South Bronx, Central Brooklyn, and Staten Island. “Giving the entire borough of Queens curbside organics collection is part of our larger citywide cleanup,” said Deputy Mayor for Operations Meera Joshi. “And this is just the beginning.”
History of DSNY Composting
Food scrap composting programs in New York City have historically been hit or miss, available only to limited portions of the city, sometimes requiring sign-ups, and often stymied by building managers who didn’t want to put in the extra work. Yard waste composting has a more consistent track record: the first official use of composting by DSNY was in 1990, also in Queens, and every borough except Manhattan now has its own dedicated leaf-composting site.
Soon after in 1991, DSNY began its test of food waste composting in an “intensive zone” in Brooklyn. It did not ultimately prove “successful and practical,” however, as once-a-week collections left residents with decaying food waste to store, and maintenance staff “showed some reservations” in the buildings involved. Further experiments in Brooklyn yielded even worse results.
From 1993-1996, DSNY ran an institutional pilot in Staten Island. It was also of limited success. In 1997, 1999, and 2001, the Department explored “mixed-waste” composting options, with similar results. A more detailed history of early efforts can be found in DSNY’s 2001 report, Composting in New York City.
Composting trials, pilots, and experiments have been ongoing over the two decades since. Most recently, the Curbside Composting Program had to be suspended due to COVID-19 and only resumed operation last year. Leaf collection has become a DSNY staple every fall, but food waste composting efforts continue to be fraught with difficulties.
“This is a no-frill way of just getting it done without the bureaucracy and the difficulties of signing up for a program,” said Mayor Adams. “We designed this program to be the last composting program that we roll out in New York City. This is by far the cheapest, the most efficient, the easiest for New Yorkers to use.”
DSNY Commissioner Jessica Tisch, who joined Mayor Adams in making this announcement, tells residents who want to participate to “say to your building manager, ‘we know that you have a brown bin. It was delivered to you. The City of New York delivered one to you. Where is it? I’d like to put my food scraps inside.'”
By: Kyle Hunt (Kyle is a CityLaw intern and a New York Law School student, Class of 2024.)