Skip to Content
Morning Spew

Brooklyn Curbside Composting Questions, Answered

And some links you should separate from the rest of your trash, for your Thursday.

a brown compost bin on a sidewalk

My compost bin, on her maiden voyage. (Hell Gate)

This year, after a lifetime of throwing away my food scraps in the trash, I began to explore composting. (Why did I wait so long? What can I say, I'm lazy.) My journey began when my friend gifted me a home composter that I smugly used for months, only to be horrified when I learned that the sleek white machine, which looked like a crock pot but designed by Apple, was not making compost so much as dehydrated food bits devoid of nutrients. I then began using the City's orange compost smart bins, reasoning that it would be far better for my veggie scraps to be turned into "engineered bioslurry" and "biogas" than sit in a landfill and turn into uncaptured, planet-warming methane. 

But I knew the end game all along would be the day that mandatory curbside composting, which was first rolled out in Queens, would come to Brooklyn, at the beginning of October. I filled out the form to get a free brown compost bin from the Sanitation Department and pored over the City's rules. The hefty bin is quite nice-looking and has a sturdy lid with a lock. After it arrived, I began tossing everything from greasy pizza boxes to wilted flowers inside. 

After a couple of weeks of curbside composting, I still had a lot of questions, so I reached out to the Sanitation Department for some answers. (And Bronx, Staten Island, and Manhattan residents, get ready—according to the Sanitation Department, curbside composting will roll out to the Bronx and Staten Island in March of 2024, and to Manhattan in October of 2024.) 

For Brooklyn households and buildings that have missed the cut-off to get a free brown compost bin from the City, are there ways they can still get a free bin? If not, what's the process of getting one?

Brooklynites, don't despair! You can still get a free bin. DSNY is hosting a series of brown compost bin giveaways at a variety of locations in Brooklyn. But as DSNY press secretary Vincent Gragnani noted, registration is required (plus, you'll have to have some way of transporting the bin, unless you don't mind rolling it however many blocks back to your home). 

Otherwise, building owners will have to purchase their own bins. 

What is the official process of replacing a bin from the City, if it's stolen? Will people be able to get a free replacement?

"One of many great advantages of this program vs. previous versions is that residents can use their own bin. Previously, if something happened to your brown bin, you were out of luck entirely. Now, you can simply replace [it] with any bin that works for you," Gragnani told me. He added, "We would add that we have not heard reports of stolen bins. Given that they are free, we’re not sure why someone would steal one." 

Can people use plastic trash bags as a liner in their compost bins? Does it matter what color it is?

You don't need to line your bin, but according to Gragnani, "residents can use any type of plastic bag to line the bin." 

Can people throw food scraps in a plastic bag in the compost bin?

"Yes, food scraps, yard waste—you can put it all in the bin, with or without a liner," Gragnani told me. 

DSNY's website states that people should "not compost trash such as diapers, personal hygiene products, animal waste, wrappers, non-paper packaging, and foam products." 

What is DSNY's plan to educate residents about the need to compost?

Curbside composting is supposedly mandatory in Brooklyn now. But on my block, most people have yet to begin composting—this past Monday, only a few people had put out compost bins. When I asked my neighbor if he was planning on participating, he just laughed and told me, "The City doesn't even pick up recycling when they're supposed to." 

It's clear that there needs to be a robust public outreach effort for the City to meet its goals—in New York City, roughly eight million pounds of organic waste ends up in landfills each day, yet the Queens curbside composting pilot only collected about 13 million pounds of compost in a three-month period. 

"We have engaged in massive outreach efforts throughout the borough in recent weeks using traditional media, social media, mailers, outreach to Community Boards and community-based organizations, and door knocking," Gragnani said. "In the last two months, we have knocked on every 1- to 9-unit building in Brooklyn." 

When will building owners start being fined for not separating leaf and yard waste from trash, and how much will those fines be? How much will the fines for not separating food waste and food-soiled paper from trash be, beginning in 2025? 

"The sorting of leaf and yard waste becomes mandatory in each borough as the borough receives curbside service, though there will be a three-month warning period," Gragnani told me, adding, "There will be no enforcement of the sorting of food waste until April 2025."

He noted the fines will be the same as for "improper sorting of recycling," which are based on the number of apartments in the building. 

What can residents do if their building owner is not yet composting, but they would like to? 

"While residents can always bring their food scraps to a nearby drop off site, remember, buildings don't get a choice here—separation is mandatory. If your building is not participating, let us know!" wrote Belinda Manger, DSNY's director of communications.

And some links you should not throw in your compost bin: 

Already a user?Log in

Thanks for reading!

Give us your email address to keep reading two more articles for free

See all subscription options

Stay in touch

Sign up for our free newsletter

More from Hell Gate

See all posts