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N.Y.C. Will Expand Compost Pickup to Queens in October

What happens to food scraps in the garbage can is both gross (rats, garbage juice) and heavy (methane emissions, climate crisis). In New York, the fate of stale food has recently ignited and caused passions a political stench.

But now the city is trying to get past the compost drama with a new plan to help more New Yorkers separate organic waste — food scraps and yard waste that can be turned into rich soil — from other, non-compostable waste.

New York has long lagged behind other major cities in recycling organic waste, which makes up a third of the waste sent to landfills. In 2020, City Hall suspended its composting program and plans to expand it to the entire city, citing pandemic budgetary tensions. When it came back, there was a new, complicated one opt-in process which served only a handful of neighborhoods.

Eric Adams had citywide composting on his “Get Stuff Done” list during his mayoral campaign. But after taking office, he called the program “broken” and canceled it to save money. He vowed to find a cheaper, more effective, more equitable approach, but compost enthusiasts were outraged.

Now City Hall is unveiling a new pilot program that it says will get more people to participate at a lower cost. It also has a new organizational principle: no drama.

City officials plan to announce Monday that, starting in October, garbage trucks will drive past every residence in Queens every week to pick up segregated food scraps and yard waste.

Jessica Tisch, the sanitation commissioner, said developing the program and separating waste from feeling less like an additional headache than a new city service were top priorities for her department.

“Simple and easy to use,” Ms. Tisch said in an interview on Sunday. “No drama for New Yorkers.”

Officials and environmentalists said the key to success is bringing the program to market that will make the waste cleaner both in people’s homes and on the streets, and reduce the city’s growing rat problem. They believe that could make composting just as appealing to people who rarely think about the climate impact of their waste as it is to passionate environmentalists.

“The whole concept,” said Ms. Tisch, “is that New Yorkers want to do the right thing and if you make it easy enough, they will.”

The new compost trucks will just show up, she said. No opt-in needed (“That was a psychodrama”). Participation is not required (“We are not there yet”). And no bin drama. The municipality provides brown bins as in the existing opt-in program, which will be continued. But in Queens, garden waste, such as leaves, is also allowed in a bag. For leftover food, any container is fine — as long as it’s sealed and rat-proof.

Ms. Tisch also has a plan to end what she calls an entirely different “level of drama”: Apartment dwellers no longer need approval from building administrators, who often veto their requests for organic pickup in the Bronx neighborhoods. , Brooklyn and Manhattan that it.

Sanitary officials say building managers often assume that food waste bins mean more mess, more odors and more trouble for building inspectors.

“They’re wrong,” said Josh Goodman, the assistant commissioner for public affairs at the Department of Sanitation. “The garbage is dirty” now. Rats tear open the bags now. If the organic material is in a separate, sealed container, it is much more difficult for rats to get in.”

The Adams administration also hopes Queens’ plan will dampen the political drama.

Some of the environmental advocates, climate experts, public housing residents, community gardeners and others who have lobbied successive governments to adopt universal composting have been consulted about the plan. Cautiously they call it promising.

“This could be the metamorphosis of composting in New York City,” said Eric A. Goldstein, a New York City attorney and environmental director for the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Hopefully a beautiful butterfly will come out.”

He said that “butterfly” would be a universal compost collection for everyone in the city.

City Hall would be pushed in this direction anyway. A city council bill that would require mandatory city-wide collection of organics has gathered a veto-proof number of sponsors, including the speaker, Adrienne Adams, and Sandy Nurse, the chair of the sanitation committee. Mr Goldstein states that the Queens’ plan: does not take away the need for that measure, saying the timing was “probably no coincidence”.

The ultimate goal is to capture the 8 million pounds of compostable waste that now goes to landfills every day, where it emits methane, a greenhouse gas far more potent than carbon dioxide. Even in districts with opt-in composting, only 10 percent of residents participate, meaning trucks travel long distances between stops. The mayor has argued that the costs per tonne of collected organic matter are prohibitive.

Sanitary officials say by designing more efficient routes and work schedules, their plan cuts the cost of biological activities per neighborhood by more than half, from $860,000 to a projected $320,000. The new cost of the program totals $2 million, which is less than $1 per Queens resident.

Innovations include trucks that only follow compost routes that reach more homes per day. Other routes will use double-sided trucks to collect both recyclable and organic material. The department will hire 76 new sanitation workers who are organic-only, helping to reduce overtime.

Queens has more trees and yards than other boroughs and was chosen because yard waste is an entry point that has helped cities like Seattle and Toronto achieve high composting rates as people already have to pack cuttings and leaves into separate bags.

The community’s diversity — densely populated apartment blocks, single-family homes, large public housing complexes and several deprived areas — will also test how best to make composting universal and equitable, officials said.

Mr. Goodman said another pilot program exceeded expectations. The city placed sealed compost bins on sidewalks. By unlocking them with an app and turning a lever, people can deposit organic waste. The bins, which are usually placed in the Astoria section of Queens, fill up daily, with almost no inappropriate items.

New street bins, mainly in Upper Manhattan, the South Bronx and Central Brooklyn, bring the total to 400.

Organic waste from the city goes to a facility in Newtown Creek, where it is converted to renewable energy, and to an urban composting facility on Staten Island, where it is turned into soil given to parks and community gardens or used in bulk. is sold.

The city also plans to spread the word that people can keep compost in their freezer or a small enclosed indoor bin between collection days to make their kitchen less smelly.

“They’re not new things,” Mr. Goodman said. “It’s in your garbage anyway.”

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