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Food Composting Comes to NYC

Food Composting Comes to NYC

I first came to New York City in the late 80s, and one aspect of city life that made an immediate impression on me was the immensity of the garbage problem. There was (and still is, for the most part) garbage everywhere and, beyond the cultural gifts the city had to offer, it seemed eternally giving of bags upon bags of trash. With a city of this density and population, it’s hard to imagine anything less, but I certainly had hoped the trash problem wasn’t so abundant.

Some three decades later, Mayor Bloomberg, who has spearheaded a number of highly controversial programs from banning trans fats to (more recently) curbing soda consumption within the city, has announced it is going to start a massive food-composting program in the city famous for its voluminous amounts of garbage. Mayor Bloomberg calls food waste, “New York City’s final recycling frontier.” According to a report in The New York Times, Bloomberg said, “We bury 1.2 million tons of food waste in landfills every year at a cost of nearly $80 per ton,” he said. “That waste can be used as fertilizer or converted to energy at a much lower price. That’s good for the environment and for taxpayers.”

The plan is to hire a composting facility to handle 100,000 tons of food scraps per year (about 10% of the city’s annual food waste) and then move the program from voluntary to a program that is mandatory. The program will start at the residential level and then, hopefully, make it to the commercial level sparing the city (and local landfills) untold tonnage in garbage waste. While NYC has not had the best record in recycling, diverting only about 15 percent of its total residential waste from landfills, hopes are high that this new composting program will excite residents and herald a big change in NYC’s garbage legacy.

Of course there is criticism (as there always is for Bloomberg’s somewhat idealistic programs) with critics calling it a cry from the coming “nanny state,” but isn’t this a move toward the greater good? Do you think such a project is doable on such a massive scale? Should it start with residential garbage, or should such a program focus first on commercial kitchens, companies, and restaurants? Will any of this make a difference or will curbside bins with rotting scraps of food just solidify NYC’s reputation as the garbage capitol of the United States?

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Eric Steinman

Eric Steinman is a freelance writer based in Rhinebeck, NY. He regularly writes about food, music, art, architecture, and culture and is a regular contributor to Bon Appétit among other publications.


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2:26AM PDT on Jun 25, 2013

Thanks for information

9:38PM PDT on Jun 24, 2013

composting is beneficial if all towns added it to a recycling program it could help

3:32AM PDT on Jun 23, 2013


6:57AM PDT on Jun 22, 2013

Thank you !

7:24PM PDT on Jun 21, 2013

Thank you Eric, for Sharing this!

1:19PM PDT on Jun 21, 2013

Promotion/ use of vertical and rooftop gardens would help people understand that they can put compost to good use even in urban areas.

10:25PM PDT on Jun 20, 2013

this will be hard to enforce. but good to try.

9:22PM PDT on Jun 20, 2013

Good idea but they are taking a long time to implement these kinds of new programs.

3:05PM PDT on Jun 20, 2013

Yes, Vicky.Good place to start. I also think that some sort of award, perhaps a window sticker saying "I'm Supporting the City by Composting" or something similar, might encourage them..

2:59PM PDT on Jun 20, 2013

There was an article in "The Ecologist" a year or so agoabout this. Wish I could give chapter and verse but it was about this problem in blocks of flats in London. It ought to be extendable to NY.

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