How NYC Is Investing in Composting - Public Goods Blog

How NYC Is Investing in Composting

At the beginning of the new year, Project Farmhouse, a nonprofit organized by GrowNYC, convened for a professional development workshop run by the NYC Department of Education’s Service in Schools.

garden, lettuce, turnips

The workshop, “Race Against Waste,” discussed important disposal issues along with with an enlarged projection on a whiteboard of a recent cartoon that appeared in the The New Yorker: two men, a palm tree and the dime-size island they both inhabit. One man sits in the sand and indiscriminately eats his coconut, tossing pieces of the cracked shell in the sand. The other walking by, picks up a piece, and asks, “Would it kill you to compost?”

Despite the joke, New York City is taking composting seriously. Many school districts have adopted composting programs to divert the tons of unwanted food waste that accrues in cafeterias. Some even have their own school gardens where bright green bibbed lettuce and juicy red tomatoes are harvested and used as ingredients in school lunches.

In a 2017 journal titled “School Composting – Let’s Get Growing!,” published by Cornell’s Waste Management Institute, writers Mary Schwarz and Jean Bonhotal declared that “as educators we have an important task” of providing future generations with habits that “emphasize reducing the amount of waste we produce, reusing, recycling and composting whatever we can.” In this 16-page guide, both school faculty and administrators can learn how to incorporate composting into the curriculum, steps to get started in a composting program, as well as success stories from composting programs in other schools.

In recent years, New York City made a progressive move in conservation and sustainability by launching the Organics Collection Program, a service that offers curbside pickup of organic waste for some three million NYC residents — and is the largest organic collection program in all fifty states. Single-family residences and apartment buildings may enroll and receive brown bins, durable enough to keep out city rats. Program participants are asked to throw all of their natural, organic waste into the bins: coffee filters and grinds, green top hats of strawberries, the nub of corn on the cob.

According to the New York Times, composting campaigns such as the Organics Collection Program helped collect about “23,000 tons of orange peels, apple cores and other organic materials…from about 300,000 households, 722 schools, agencies and institutions and 80 drop-off points” in New York City. Without these sustainable practices in place, all this tonnage of food would have otherwise ended up clogging landfills and releasing methane, a harmful greenhouse gas.

Depending on the neighborhood’s pick up schedule, the Department of Sanitation makes its rounds for weekly organic matter collections. This matter is then converted into either compost or renewable energy. By cutting down on greenhouse gases, the Organics Collection Program is a step in the right direction, and while it only caters to specified neighborhoods, its website encourages suggestions for future neighborhoods to be included in the program. Other helpful website resources include a list of compost drop-off sites for anyone looking to get rid of compost.

On the west coast of the country, green cities like Seattle, Portland and San Francisco have adopted similar organic collection programs, but unlike the one in New York, resident participation is mandatory.

From Cartoons and Fiction to Reality

In a February 2019 issue of The New Yorker, the fiction section included “What Can You Do with a General,” a short story that recounts John and Linda and their three adult children who are returning home for Christmas. While John awaits for his children’s arrival, he takes notice of the full persimmon trees in his yard and grows irate because they will go to waste.

“The kids should bake cookies when they get here, he thought, persimmon cookies. Wasn’t that what Linda used to make, when the kids were little? Or what else—jam, maybe? All this fruit going to waste, it was disgusting.”

Oftentimes, cartoons and fiction are ideal at exposing the ugly truths and behaviors of humanity because there is a certain distance between the artist and the audience. Imaginative characters who fail to compost are not exactly you and me, but reflections of us, geared to simply make us realize our faults. Though it seems like composting is suddenly becoming popular in both cartoons and fiction, it is a sustainable practice that should be part of reality.

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