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Lydia Hallett's Project

Composting in Manhattan

The waste management system is very complex due to varying programs, different items accepted, public versus private, separating correctly, and more. If the system is hard to understand or navigate, then citizens won’t participate which diminishes the mission of all of the organizations working together to achieve Mayor Bill de Blasio’s goal of sending zero waste to landfills by 2030. Through my research, I identified and simplified the options that citizens of Manhattan have to recycle their food scraps and where those food scraps are processed. I gathered this information by talking with experts, visiting the locations, and extensive background research.

The first option is the NYC Department of Sanitation (DSNY) curbside compost collection. This program is currently serving over 3.3 million residents in all five boroughs. However, Manhattan residents who would like this service must request a brown bin from DSNY for their collection. Once the food scraps have been collected, they end up at a large industrial scale composting facility in Fresh Kills in Staten Island, Newton Creek Wastewater Resource Recovery Facility in Brooklyn, or at various transfer stations to be taken to other facilities in the region. Due to powerful processors, these facilities are able to accept more compostable items. I was able to visit the Waste Management processing facility where organic material is converted into an organic slurry called EBS through their CORe recycling processor. That EBS slurry is then used at the Wastewater Resource Recovery Facility to increase the production of biogas in anaerobic digesters, which is then used to create renewable energy. The CORe processor is an exciting technology due to its processing abilities and potential in expanding renewable resources within NYC.

The local drop-off sites are located at popular locations throughout NYC to make composting food scraps as easy as possible for residents. The program is operated through the NYC Compost Project, GrowNYC, and community partners across all five boroughs. In Manhattan, there are around 28 drop off sites and 51 community compost sites affiliated with the program. I visited various drop off sites throughout Manhattan to chat with the people managing the compost bins and the people who were dropping off their food scraps. Everyone I talked to discovered the compost program from walking past a site and learning more from the operator. The food scraps collected at these sites are either combined with the DSNY curbside collection or are composted on site at various partner organizations: Big Reuse, Brooklyn Botanic Garden, Earth Matter NY, LES Ecology Center, Queens Botanical Garden, Snug Harbor Cultural Center and Botanical Garden, The New York Botanical Garden. I visited Big Reuse in Long Island City and Red Hook Community Farm Compost Operation in Brooklyn to learn more about the composting process at these sites. The Red Hook site is the largest composting facility in the US that is run entirely on renewable resources which includes manpower! At both of these locations, I worked alongside passionate citizens who were looking for a way to connect with their community, do something positive, or help do their part to compost their own food scraps. These local sites are integral for community engagement and compost education.

Micro Haulers provide pick up services for residents and then compost those food scraps on their own sites. There are currently two companies that offer service in Manhattan: Vokashi and Reclaimed Organics. These providers create green jobs, exemplify sustainable business, and fill a vital gap in the composting network. The final food scrap recycling option for Manhattan citizens is composting at home. There are various methods to create your own compost like Vermicompost, Bokashi, and in tumblers.

In addition to visiting the various sites, I attended a composting convention and a Solid Waste Advisory Board (SWAB) event. The composting convention was attended by compost experts and various waste management organizations from all around the country. The SWAB event was attended by a similarly passionate crowd of citizens and experts focusing on the role composting can play in bettering our NYC community. The attendance of both events were proof to how many organizations and people are working hard to produce resources and programs to educate and empower people to compost. The common goal of diverting waste from landfill fueled conversations that essentially disentangled the complex system that I had once thought to be counterproductive. However, there is not one solution to make composting work for our community and each of the four options, and the comprising elements, that I have detailed play a role in supporting the others. For example, the drop-off sites have educated perhaps millions of New Yorkers on what compost is and what can be composted. A curbside collection will never be successful without the education to inform residents to use it and how to use it. The complexity of the organics recycling system is what fuels the opportunities to compost in Manhattan. The next step is to figure out how to expand the reach of the educational resources so that these programs can continue to thrive and grow.

Image of Options described in Organic Waste Recycling Options in Manhattan (below)

Organic Waste Recycling Options in Manhattan

There are four options that you have if you want to recycle organic material, like an apple core, in Manhattan. The first option is through the DSNY Curbside Composting program. The organic matter will be picked up and taken to a large industrial scale composting facility in Fresh Kills, Staten Island, or to the Newton Creek Wastewater Resource Recovery Facility in Brooklyn, or it will be taken to various transfer stations within the area. The second option is at a Local Drop-Off Site around the city. That organic matter will be combined with the DSNY Curbside Composting to be taken to the places listed previously or to be composted on-site at a partner organization: Big Reuse, Brooklyn Botanic Garden, Earth Matter NY, LES Ecology Center, Queens Botanical Garden, Snug Harbor Cultural Center, and Botanical Garden, The New York Botanical Garden. Your third option is to hire a Micro Hauling company that will come to your home to pick up your food scraps and compost them at their sites. The most popular Manhattan haulers are Vokashi or Reclaimed Organics. The final method is composting at home through various methods like utilizing tumblers or vermicompost.