Large metropolitan areas must adapt their waste management policies to reduce the number of emissions and waste in landfills to reach a sustainable future. With less space available for trash disposal, composting has become a common practice in some American cities. However, it has not caught on as quickly as some would like, so advocacy groups are taking action. In New York City, their work has made the practice much more effective and easier to implement.
New York City produces 3,500 tons of organic waste per day, causing a surge in methane emissions. Since it’s a damaging greenhouse gas, a need to quell the rate of these emissions is imperative. Experts say composting is the most viable solution because it utilizes greenhouse gasses for soil nutrients and helps reduce the number of rats scavenging for scraps on the street. Fewer rats are a positive public health impact from waste getting off the streets, and the finished compost can be used to help heal contaminated soil in city parks, gardens, and other green spaces. While composting has increased participation across the five boroughs, grassroots initiatives have stepped up to improve it.
In Brooklyn and the Bronx, community-led groups are changing the discourse about how citizens effectively compost.
One such group is BK Rot, a collective of “micro haulers” that ride on bikes, picking up bags of food waste from local restaurants, residences, and businesses for composting efforts around Brooklyn.
BK Rot has been a resounding success, earning rave reviews from some of its clients. What stands out about the organization is they employ local teenagers to educate a new generation of composting leaders. They have raised around $210,000 in income for youth workers while diverting 936,000 pounds of food waste from landfills. BK Rot encourages participation from all teenage residents in Brooklyn while making composting more accessible.
In the Bronx, a similar nonprofit organization is leading the charge. GreenFeen OrganiX (GFO) offers a few packages for residences and businesses in Riverdale and Morris Heights, along with Washington Heights and Harlem in Uptown Manhattan. This women-led coalition aims to increase economic and social justice awareness through environmental advocacy.
Using a bike fleet of local teens, GFO supplies clients buckets, biodegradable bags, and training materials for employees. The goal is to support New York City’s Zero Waste by 2030 campaign while garnering a greater sense of environmental awareness and social justice.
Since areas where people of color are often disproportionately affected by carbon emissions and industrial waste, leading a composting effort is one way the community begins to reach equity with more upscale areas of the city.
It’s not as if New York City hasn’t had a composting program. In fact, the Department of Sanitation launched efforts back in 1993 with the NYC Compost Project. Due to budget cuts and allocation across multiple mayoral administrations, there hasn’t been a unified effort to enforce efforts. That could be changing soon, with a new bill introduced by the New York City Council to mandate universal curbside composting by the end of 2023. Businesses will be required to separate organics from their waste, but citizens will have to opt-in to join the effort. Mayor Eric Adams even allocated $20 million for revamped organic waste disposal.
New York City will need composting efforts to increase as sustainable waste management becomes a more pressing issue. The changing climate has forced a reconsideration of past policies, but communities have found solutions when they’ve felt municipal governments have taken lax stances on the practice.
It’s safe to say plenty more composting advocacy groups will pop up across the Five Boroughs, especially as small gardens and urban farming projects emerge as a viable source for locally grown produce and will need fertilizer. New York City is finding ways to reach sustainability, and it’s only getting better for the Big Apple.