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Composting? In NYC? Curbside? By 2024?!

The City calls it "a new model for curbside composting." We have some questions.

5:53 PM EST on February 1, 2023

Mayor Adams holds a bag of compost before he tosses it into a new NYC Composting bin at City Hall.

Mayor Adams brandishing a bag of the good stuff. (Michael Appleton / Mayoral Photography Office)

Not even one year ago, Mayor Eric Adams was being hit with moldy banana peels (rhetorically) for slashing the Sanitation Department's expansion of compost collection.

But on Wednesday, the mayor pledged that by the end of 2024, curbside compost collection would be available for all New Yorkers in every borough: "The largest compost program on the planet," as he put it.

"For more than two decades, past administrations, great mayors like Mayor Bloomberg, attempted to do this," Adams said. "Finally, we have an administration that's not only listening but we're getting it done."

According to DSNY, Queens will have year-round curbside composting by March 27, 2023, and Brooklyn will get it on October 2, 2023. The Bronx and Staten Island will receive it on March 25, 2024, and Manhattan will have it on October 7, 2024.

To make up for the lag in Manhattan, the borough will receive 150 extra automated, app-assisted DSNY compost bins on street corners, which will be installed this summer, according to a spokesperson, bringing the total number of bins to 400.

Sanitation Commissioner Jessica Tisch described it as "a new model for curbside composting—positioning it as a service that we offer New Yorkers rather than acting like placing composting at the curb is a favor they're doing for us."

The plan will also be voluntary, not compulsory ("This is the first phase, let's get New Yorkers used to it," Adams said) though all Department of Education schools will be composting by the end of 2024.

What's behind this new composting push? Sanitation says they were impressed with the Queens composting pilot from this past fall, which diverted 12.7 million pounds of organic waste from landfills, besting Brooklyn's curbside districts. Tisch also stated that it was more cost-effective than the current composting programs: "Three times the material at less than one third of the cost per district, compared to the old legacy composting programs." (Also, the City Council was poised to act on their composting bill this year anyway.)

But huge questions around implementation remain unanswered. It's one thing to get single-family homeowners in St. Albans and Jamaica to put out composting bins. It's another to deal with 500-unit condo buildings in Manhattan that will likely need massive containers in order for DSNY to be able to pick up their organics efficiently, and to stanch the flow of rats who are eating this waste (organics represent more than 30 percent of the garbage that New Yorkers generate). 

In other words, to pull this off, we're going to need to vastly improve our current waste containerization situation, far beyond DSNY's current pilot. How will these initiatives complement each other?

And what of the City's struggling recycling program, which has seen its already-pathetic diversion rates go down in the most recent fiscal year? (We're not even at 17 percent!)

Eventually, the City will reap the benefits of composting—less methane gas seeping out of our landfills and less trash we'll dump in low-income communities across the country, all of which will result in a healthier environment and money saved (again, assuming people participate). But these benefits and savings will take years and "multiple mayors" to realize.

On Wednesday, Hell Gate asked Mayor Adams: Unlike those other mayors who tried and failed to get their arms around this, are you in this for the long run? Can you commit to funding these programs in the City's budgets going forward? Would he take responsibility for getting this done? 

"When it comes down to budget, I can't promise anything. The asylum seekers this year, $1.4 billion, next fiscal year, $2.8 billion. I cannot promise anything," Adams replied. "I don't know what's going to happen at the border…This is going to impact every service New Yorkers receive. Every service."

Don't compost those moldy (rhetorical) banana peels just yet.

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