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Mandatory Composting Is Coming to New York City: What You Need to Know

Nov 17, 2023


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The program, which has already rolled out in Queens, requires residents to separate food scraps and yard waste from their trash. Brooklyn is next.

By Hilary Howard

Universal curbside composting came to Queens. Now it’s Brooklyn’s turn.

The program, which is expanding across the city over the next year, requires residents to separate food scraps and yard waste from their trash. Soon, it will be mandatory for all New Yorkers.

Composting is crucial for fighting climate change, explained Councilwoman Sandy Nurse, a sponsor of the Zero Waste Act, a legislative package that passed this summer and includes the curbside bill. When food waste goes into landfills, it produces methane, “which is the worst of the greenhouse gang,” she said.

Domingo Morales, the founder of the grass-roots organization Compost Power, added that composting makes soil healthier, which improves food growing capabilities and can also capture more carbon dioxide.

Here’s what New Yorkers should expect when it arrives in their areas.

It will start in Brooklyn on Oct. 2. (Currently, officials are “knocking on every door” to alert residents, according to a Department of Sanitation spokesman.)

The Bronx and Staten Island will be next in March, followed by Manhattan in October 2024.

No. Any bin, with a capacity of 55 gallons or less and a tight lid, will work. But if you want something official looking (and free), you can order one (or even just a decal for your chosen receptacle) through the Department of Sanitation, depending on when your borough is starting the program.

Brooklyn residents may order them through Oct. 13. To be ready for the Oct. 2 start date, they should order by Sept. 1.

Those who live in the Bronx, Staten Island and Manhattan should check back with the department in early 2024.

Basically, all food, anything that grows in the dirt and a few other items. These can include fruits and vegetables, eggshells, coffee grounds, bread, pasta, cereal, rice, meat, bones, dairy, prepared foods, greasy uncoated paper plates, pizza boxes, leaf and yard waste.

“New Yorkers should not overthink this,” Councilwoman Nurse said. “Is this something I can eat? Or Grow? Cool, it goes in the bin.”

Yard waste can be mixed in with food scraps (as long as all of it is placed in a receptacle with a tightfitting lid). But residents can also keep yard waste separate by placing it in a bag or in a different container.

Anything that should go into recycling, like metal, glass, plastic, cartons, clean paper and cardboard, and other trash items like wrappers, pet waste, medical waste, diapers, foam, or hygiene products.

Yard waste and food scraps will be picked up on recycling day. Check for the recycling schedule here.

The Sanitation Department now has dual-bin trucks with two chambers that can pick up different materials at the same time. On one side might be recycling, on the other side, compost.

Pickup times, as well as the design and number of trucks, will depend on the density of the district.

For those in high-rises or larger buildings, each property’s management is expected to develop a plan for collecting and setting out compost for pickup.

Expect some kinks in the beginning. Linna Quigley, 37, who lives in a Jackson Heights coop, was delighted when curbside came to Queens, emailing an F.A.Q. sheet about composting to her neighbors, she said. But, she says, sometimes she sees regular trash in her 79-unit building’s one communal, brown bin.

“This is going to be a long process,” Councilwoman Nurse said. “Just like with anything that’s new, you have to constantly reinforce it.”

New Yorkers who want to get ahead of their building’s curbside composting plans can request a visit from someone at Sanitation to go over options.

“You don’t need a fancy $100 countertop bin from Amazon,” said Mr. Morales, who suggested empty jumbo mayonnaise or peanut butter jars, even a zip-lock bag, for storing waste. “Usually a zip-lock bag will last me a good four to five months,” he said. Once you empty the bag in the communal bin, he added, it’s easy to wash and reuse.

For lining a small bin or bucket, there are biodegradable bags (look for the ASTM D6400 specification), but they still take a while to break down. And they do not compost, Mr. Morales said. For transporting waste, he suggested using a brown paper bag, like one from Trader Joe’s. It can get tossed into the compost bin, and it’s carbon rich, he said.

For the large bin that Sanitation workers pick up, you can line it with a garbage bag, which can also be reused. But it’s not necessary. Basically, whoever controls putting the recycling and composting out should make this decision.

At first, nothing really. The law won’t go into effect until six months after the entire city has gotten curbside composting service. If the rollout stays on schedule, this should put us at Spring 2025.

In terms of fines, details are still being worked out, but they will be comparable to recycling fines and will depend on the size of the building — between $25 and $100 for a first offense.

Once the law is enacted, if sanitation workers are collecting the trash and they find food or yard waste mixed in with the garbage, they are supposed to call their supervisor, who will write a ticket.

Those are smart compost bins, and there are about 400 of them across the city, available for anyone to use at any time. They accept the same items as curbside service.

They are called “smart bins” for a reason: You’ll need to download an app to use them. You can do that here.

Yes. There are community drop-off composting sites, run by various nonprofits, throughout the five boroughs. You can find the one closest to you here. Rules for what they accept tend to be more strict than curbside service or the orange smart bins. For example, most of them do not accept meat, bones and dairy.

Some of it goes to compost facilities in New Jersey or to a site in Staten Island. At the latter, the material is set into 10-foot-tall rows (called windrows), where it gets turned and aerated over time and broken down into soil. It is then either sold or given away.

New Yorkers interested in free compost can find a pickup point close to them here.

Some of the waste goes to anaerobic digesters, large sealed containers that store it while bacteria break it down. The largest hub for this process is in Newtown Creek in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, where “eggs” convert the waste into biogas (a renewable fuel) that can go into the grid to power homes.

The city is looking to expand facilities to meet increasing demand and to diversify processing so as not to overburden any one neighborhood, according to the Department of Sanitation.


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