New York City Will Expand Composting
Program now serves 100,000 households, and would add 33,000
By Corinne Ramey in the Wall Street Journal
At an organic farm about 90 miles north of the city, New Yorkers’ banana peels, eggshells and yard clippings arrive in dump trucks.
Eight to 12 months later, they will be dark, rich dirt.
“It’s beautiful compost. It really is,” the farm’s director of operations, Erich McEnroe, said on Friday, sifting his prized soil through cupped hands.
The compost at McEnroe Organic Farm, in Millerton, N.Y., is just part of the output from 6,700 tons of organic material that New York City’s sanitation department, according to a report it released on Monday, collected from local residents and schools from October to April as part of its Organics Pilot Program. The program recycles food waste from about 100,000 households, about 3% of the city.
Now, the department plans to expand its program to an additional 33,000 households this year, including the Bronx neighborhoods of Riverdale, North Riverdale and Fieldston, and the Brooklyn neighborhoods of Greenpoint and North Williamsburg.
The de Blasio administration pledged in April to expand residential composting to all New Yorkers by 2018.
Residents served by the program—which currently includes Bay Ridge and Park Slope in Brooklyn, and Maspeth in Queens—are given small containers that they can put on their countertops. The food scraps are collected along with regular curbside trash pickups.
About 31% of the city’s waste, including food, yard waste and food-soiled paper, is organic, and thereby compostable, according to the sanitation department.
But alongside the program’s proposed expansion comes significant challenges, largely regarding contamination and infrastructure.
Much of the city’s compost was once processed by Wilmington, Del.’s Peninsula Compost Co., which Delaware ordered closed last year due to problems with odor, storage and trash. Now, the pilot-program waste is processed in Connecticut and Staten Island, as well as by the McEnroe facility.
Including those, the city’s metropolitan area has at least seven food-waste processing facilities, which can collectively handle about 100,000 tons a year, according to research by Global Green USA, a nonprofit environmental organization.
Global Green estimates that expanding the compost program to all New Yorkers would require infrastructure sufficient to process 1 million tons of food waste each year.
But city residents should reduce their food waste, not just expand composting facilities, said Matt de la Houssaye, who runs Global Green’s food-waste-recovery initiative. “Environmentally and otherwise, it makes sense to not produce food waste in the first place,” he said, “and to look at solutions for reducing it in place of developing new infrastructure.”
Currently, there are nine food-waste processing facilities under development in the tri-state area, all run by private companies, Mr. de la Houssaye said.
Mr. McEnroe, 34 years old, is the fourth generation in a family of farmers. After his grandfather died of cancer at the age of 53—the family blames pesticide exposure—Mr. McEnroe’s father began farming organically and invested in the infrastructure for a large agricultural compost facility. Last year, their farm processed 2,500 tons of New York City food waste.
Before it gets there, it goes through transfer stations in Brooklyn or Queens, where workers remove plastic bags and other debris by hand. When waste arrives at McEnroe, it is put into giant bags where self-generated heat kills pathogens.
Next, it is poured out into heaps, where it sits outside for six to eight months, during which it is turned regularly and breaks down into dirt. The dirt is sifted and put through a vacuum-type machine that extracts plastic bags, wrapper scraps and insidious fruit stickers that refuse to decompose.
Despite the contamination checks, city trash that can’t be composted still slips through, Mr. McEnroe said.
The farm also processes waste from Hyde Park’s Culinary Institute of America that is far cleaner than the city’s, he said. “What you put in is what get out.”
Poster’s only comment: I suspect many already have their own form of composting going on. Even farm animal manure can be used for fertilizing, for example.