New Yorkers Are Throwing Away Less, But Could Be Doing Even Better

More than 75% of what New Yorkers throw away could be recycled. Photo via NYC Department of Sanitation

New Yorkers are throwing away less stuff than they were 12 years ago even though the city’s population has grown, according to the city’s latest Waste Characterization Survey published last week.

Last year, DSNY collected 3.1 million tons of residential material; 2.5 million tons of that was sent to landfills or waste-to-energy facilities. Those totals present a decline in disposal, but also show how much farther there is to go toward the goal of “zero waste” by 2030.

Less than a quarter of what goes on the curb actually belongs in a landfill. Recyclable paper, plastic, metal and glass, along with organic materials such as food scraps, made up 68 percent of the 3.1 million tons of waste the city’s residents pitched in 2017.

Other recyclable materials that aren’t collected at the curb — such as textiles, plastic bags and electronics — made up another 9 percent, the survey found.

Source: WasteDive

UPDATE: State Senate Votes To Stop NYC From Enacting Plastic Bag Fee

(This story was updated on 1/20/17 at 3pm.)

The New York State Senate passed a bill this week that seeks to bar New York City from enacting fees to curb the use of disposable grocery bags in favor of more environmentally-friendly, reusable alternatives.

The State Senate has passed legislation introduced by Senator Simcha Felder of Brooklyn which prohibits the “imposition of any tax, fee or local charge on carry out merchandise bags in cities having a population of one million or more.” Felder’s bill seeks to reverse an about to go into effect 5-cent fee on plastic and paper bags provided by New York City retailers.

Felder’s bill passed Tuesday (1/17). There is a similar bill in the State Assembly, sponsored by Assemblymember Michael Cusick of Staten Island. The Assembly bill is currently in the Cities Committee.

To become law, the bills would have to be passed by both houses of the legislature, and then signed by the Governor.

Do you have an opinion about this issue? Today’s the day to express it. Find the contact info for your State Senator here. Find your State Assemblymember here.

New York City’s Bag Fee On The Line
Proponents of New York City’s plastic bag fee, which passed the City Council 28-20 last May, say it will rein in the ubiquitous use of shopping bags — that pile up every year in landfills — and bring New York in line with cities like San Francisco and Washington D.C., which have passed similar legislation. Spearheaded by Council Member Brad Lander, the new five-cent fee on paper and plastic shopping bags is supposed to go into effect on February 15th.

Strictly speaking, the 5-cent fee is not a tax. The money is kept by retailers, and does not go back to the City. After the fee was passed, Senator Felder told The New York Times that it was “nothing less than a tax on the poor and the middle class — the most disadvantaged people.”

New York City residents purchasing groceries with food stamps or via the WIC program are actually exempt from the fee, as are soup kitchens. The 5-cent charge does not apply to bags obtained from pharmacies, produce and liquor stores.

“Anti-Environment Power Grab”
Council Member Lander described Senator Felder’s bill as a “small-minded, pro-waste, plastic-industry-funded, undemocratic, anti-environment power-grab.”

“With Trump and the GOP Congress rolling back climate protections and bullying cities, it would be shameful for Albany to join them. Don’t they have more important work to do?” Lander asked in a recent statement.

“New York State legislators who care about the environment must defend the right of localities to advance effective, forward-looking environmental policy,” Lander continued.

The fierce debate over the bill exposes broader disagreement regarding how New York City should reduce its production of solid waste. The de Blasio administration has set the highly ambitious goal of sending zero solid waste to landfills by 2030 — only 13 years away.

Every day, roughly 21,000 tons of residential and commercial trash is moved by truck, barge and rail out of New York City. While only a fraction of our overall waste output, plastic bags have become symbolic of the city’s larger struggle with trash.

New Yorkers use 5.2 billion carryout bags per year, the majority of which are not recycled, says Bag It NYC, a coalition of community-based organizations which has supported the fee. The City pays an estimated $10 million to transport 100,000 tons of plastic bags to out-of-state landfills every year, they say.

Unfairly Impacting Low-Income New Yorkers?
Southern Brooklyn lawmakers have led the way in arguing that the plastic bag fee would disproportionately impact low-income and elderly New Yorkers.

In the State Assembly, the effort to reverse the bag fee is supported by Steven Cymbrowitz, Dov Hikind, Peter J. Abbate, William Colton, Jaime Williams, Nicole Malliotakis and Pamela Harris of Southern Brooklyn, along with Walter Mosley of Fort Greene, Erik Dilan of North Brooklyn, Maritza Davila of Bushwick and Charles Barron of East New York.

New York City Council Members Mathieu Eugene (Flatbush) and David Greenfield (Midwood) voted against the bag fee last year. Jumaane Williams (Flatbush) came out in support of the fee — after supporting legislation was amended to require that a study be conducted of its impact on low-income New Yorkers.

Council Member Chaim Deutsch, who represents sections of Midwood, Brighton Beach and Sheepshead Bay, said he supports measures to protect the environment, but that the law should be written to encourage shoppers to use reusable bags, not punish those who don’t.

Similarly, Council Member Mark Treyger of Coney Island acknowledged that some higher-end grocery stores, such as Whole Foods, reward customers who use reusable bags, but he maintained that “for residents of Southern Brooklyn, this is not an equitable solution.”

Council Member Lander’s office notes that fees like the one passed by the City Council “have been proven to reduce the consumption of plastic bags by 60% – 90%. Across age, race, religion, and neighborhood…”

Officials from Washington, DC, which has a large low-income population, testified at a New York City Council hearing in 2014 that their five cent bag fee has been successful across all of Washington’s income groups.

The District’s Department of Environment (DDOE) commissioned a survey in 2013 which found that 83 percent of residents and 90 percent of businesses said they either supported the bag fee or had no strong feelings about it. Eight out of ten residents said they had reduced their use of disposable bags because of the fee.

What do you think about the plastic bag fee? How do you feel about the State Senate and Assembly’s efforts to reverse it?

(Alex Ellefson contributed reporting for this story.)

NYC Big Businesses Now Required to Compost Food Waste

New York City’s slow march towards zero waste has reached yet another milestone: as of July 19, certain large businesses are required by law to separate and recycle organic waste. The law applies to about 350 establishments, including stadiums, hotels, food manufacturers, and wholesalers.

Businesses that must comply are those who meet the following criteria:

  • All food service establishments in hotels with 150 or more rooms
  • All food service vendors in arenas and stadiums with seating capacity of at least 15,000 people
  • Food manufacturers with a floor area of at least 25,000 square feet
  • Food wholesalers with a floor area of at least 20,000 square feet

These businesses are given the option to arrange for collection by a private carter, transport organic waste themselves, or process the material on site.

If handling the waste themselves, businesses can use a machine called an ORCA, which can “digest” more than a ton of food waste per day. Using continuous motion, a proprietary “natural Microorganism solution” and “recycled plastic Bio Chips,” the ORCA turns food waste into “environmentally safe water” that can be disposed of into the municipal sewage system.

See an ORCA in action here.

Part of a Larger Picture

New York City’s organics collection plays a key role in Mayor de Blasio’s ambitious OneNYC plan, which sets forth a goal of “Zero Waste” by 2030.

DSNY organic collection bins. Photo credit: BioHitech

Organic waste (food scraps, yard waste, and soiled paper not suitable for recycling) comprises nearly one-third of all waste NYC residents discard at the curb—approximately 1.1 million tons per year. In landfills, this organic material decomposes, releasing methane gas, a greenhouse gas six times more potent than carbon dioxide.

If composted, however, this material can be converted into a nutrient-rich natural fertilizer that can replenish our city’s soil. It can also be processed through anaerobic digestion, releasing methane gas that can be captured and used as an alternative to natural gas.

Since the launch of a pilot program in 2013, curbside organics collection has expanded include approximately 50,000 households and 700,000 residents across the city. By the end of 2016, DSNY plans to serve more than a million New Yorkers.

The goal is to make curbside or drop-off programs available to all residents by the end of 2018.

In April 2016, DSNY reported collecting more than 55 tons of organic material across the five boroughs—a 50% increase over the amount collected in April 2015.


Is Zero Waste Possible? Challenge To NYC Businesses Yields Encouraging Results

The de Blasio administration has pledged that by 2030, none of the city’s trash will find its way to a landfill or incinerator.

It’s a daunting task — New York City’s homes, businesses and public institutions generate roughly 20,000 tons of waste daily. The city’s Department of Sanitation has struggled for years to achieve a 20% recycling rate for residential trash; our private sector is doing somewhat better but reliable data is hard to find.

As incredible as the Mayor’s “zero waste” pledge sounds, his sustainability team has been chipping away at the goal — through expanding the use of residential composting, finding ways to turn organic waste into energy, increasing recycling options for electronic waste, etc.

The latest effort, the City’s Zero Waste Challenge, ended last week. Thirty-one private businesses attempted to see how much they could recycle or otherwise re-use their waste between February and June 2016.

The results are intriguing. Two companies were able to divert almost 100 percent of their trash from the waste stream. Half of the companies were able to divert at least 75 percent of their waste; and the other half removed at least fifty percent.

Why Composting Matters

How were these diversion rates achieved? Much of it involved composting organic material.

According to the Mayor’s Office, the participants in the challenge collectively diverted 36,910 tons of trash that would otherwise have been sent to landfills or incinerators. Two-thirds (24,500 tons) of that waste was composted.

Another 322 tons — all food — was donated.

The greatest overall waste diversion rate (across all participants) was achieved by produce distributors D’Arrigo Brothers of New York (95%) and the Durst Organization’s property at 201 East 42nd Street (95%).

Durst also achieved a 90% diversion rate at 205 East 42nd Street.

As part of their effort, D’Arrigo Brothers donated 172 tons of food to local charities and hunger relief organizations.

Getting organic material — food, yard waste, etc. — out of the waste stream has become paramount for the de Blasio administration. An estimated one-third of the city’s trash is actually organic material.

The Mayor’s Office said in a statement that the “best new program inspired by the Zero Waste Challenge” was the Starrett-Lehigh Building’s new organics collection program, which is free to all tenants and administered by RXR Realty.

Participants in the Zero Waste Challenge

Check out the greatest overall waste diversion rate achieved by type of business:

Arenas: Citi Field – 57%

Commercial tenants and building owners: Durst Organization, 201 E. 42nd Street – 95%

Food wholesalers, grocers and caterers: D’Arrigo Bros. of New York – 95%

Hotels: The Peninsula New York (66%) & Hilton Garden Inn Staten Island (66%)

Office tenants: Viacom – 87%

Restaurants/Caterers: Dig Inn Seasonal Market – 88%

TV production: Madam Secretary – 87%

Companies who achieved a 75% or more waste diversion rate:

Cleaver Co.
Dig Inn Seasonal Market, 509 Manida St
Durst Organization, 1 Bryant Park
Durst Organization, 114 W 47th Street
Durst Organization, 733 3rd Avenue
Madam Secretary
Natural Resource Defense Council
Top Banana
Sweetgreen, Columbia University

Companies who achieved a 50% or more waste diversion rate:

Disney ABC Television Group
Citi Field
COOKFOX Architects
Durst Organization, 1133 Avenue of Americas
Durst Organization, 4 Times Square
Durst Organization, 655 3rd Avenue
Hilton Garden Inn New York/Staten Island
Le Bernardin
Momofuku Milk Bar
Great Performances
Peninsula New York
The Pierre New York
USEPA, Region 2 Office
Whole Foods Market, Upper East Side
Whole Foods Market, Chelsea

Birdie vs. Litter: NYC Takes On Trash In New Ads

New York is a trashy town. Each year, we generate over 3 million tons of residential waste. And another 3 million tons of commercial trash.

Last spring, Mayor Bill de Blasio declared war on all of this garbage. As part of his OneNYC plan, he gave the city a goal of sending zero waste to landfills by 2030—that’s the “0 x 30” signs you might notice on garbage trucks.

The de Blasio administration aims to achieve this goal by increasing the amount of trash that gets recycled or composted. But, the city is also trying to tame New Yorkers’ consumption habits—cutting down the amount of plastic bags, bottles and takeout cups we use will ultimately mean less trash going to landfills.

NYC mascot Birdie's ads supporting plastic bags
One of the BYO ads put out by the city.

With that in mind, the city just announced a media blitz to reduce waste and combat litter. The ads will feature Birdie, the government mascot who just starred in the city’s “B.Y.O.” (Bring Your Own) campaign. Birdie will again remind New Yorkers to “bring their own”—in this case, reusable mugs, bottles and bags. You’ll soon see the ads on sanitation trucks and at bus stops.

Can Ads Change Our Habits?

Still, you might wonder if even the best ad campaign can curb New York’s penchant for creating waste. City officials answer this with a clear “yes.”

According to GreeNYC, New Yorkers had “overwhelmingly positive feelings” towards Birdie’s first B.Y.O campaign. It even increased their feelings of responsibility for reducing waste: 14% of New Yorkers reported that it got them into the habit of carrying reusable bags, mugs and bottles; 36% reported that they now intend to always carry reusable bags; 42% intend to always carry a reusable water bottle; and 27% intend to always carry a reusable mug.

Still, getting 9 million New Yorkers to change their habits will probably take more than ads. The city’s Department of Environmental Protection is pitching in with a fleet of 500 new or repaired public water fountains and water bottle refilling stations across the five boroughs.

Trash cans will also be part of the solution. For now, many city trash cans are part of the problem—they’re teetering mountains of waste. So, as part of this new push, the Department of Sanitation is calling on New Yorkers to Adopt-a-Basket through a program that teams local residents, businesses and community groups with the city to monitor and change liners in trash baskets on busy streets.

Spare Our Waterways

Along with sparing landfills and streets, the city also hopes this new campaign will help keep our local waterways clean and healthy. After all, some of that errant trash makes its way into sewers and then winds its way into larger waterways. That leaves a lot of “plastic in our harbor and ocean…[which] is an assault on the environment,” says Judith A. Enck, the regional administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

“We are essentially turning our waters into a landfill,” Enck said. “The best way to remove trash from our waters is to keep it out in the first place. We need to reduce waste at the source. NYC’s Bring Your Own is a terrific initiative that should be repeated in other communities.”

Fighting Litter, One New York City Neighborhood at a Time

Litter significantly depreciates the value of a home. So says research by advocacy groups like Keep America Beautiful. They report that there are economic, environmental and even social repercussions from trash on streets and sidewalks. But in the gold-rush town that is contemporary Brooklyn, all bets are off.

In Greenpoint, the long-grubby Brooklyn neighborhood of working-class family homes and industrial workshops, there have historically been few street-corner trashcans and persistent heaps of commercial trash dumped on quiet blocks. And yet the sale price per square foot there rose from $539 in 2011 to $914 in 2014.

The influx of new New Yorkers driving prices up all over the city, of course, produces more trash. Services and infrastructure that existed before prove inadequate. But in Greenpoint, for which a zoning map looks like a Tetris board of commercial, residential, and public spaces, handling that new level of trash has proven particularly difficult.

According to data from the city, Greenpoint and Williamsburg (Community Board 1) compare somewhat poorly to other neighborhoods in the borough when it comes to the cleanliness of their streets and sidewalks. North Brooklyn’s streets are also less clean than they were two years ago.

Add to that the fact that an estimated 7,000 tons of the city’s garbage is trucked to North Brooklyn every single day, and you have an exceedingly complicated neighborhood challenge. What to do?

Go D.I.Y.

That’s what Caroline Bauer and Alan Minor, two urban planners transplanted from Kansas and Alabama, did. After a chance meeting in a bar in 2012, they put into motion Curb Your Litter, a beautification and litter research project.

curb your litter 2
Caroline Bauer and Alan Minor. Credit: The Brooklyn Paper

Minor and Bauer speculated that a great deal of the garbage on the streets must stem from the lack of public trashcans. Trashcans are generally designated only for commercial streets, not residential or industrial, Bauer explained. So, they aimed to buy used fifty-gallon oil drums, draft local artists to paint them, and set them up along the neighborhood’s main pedestrian thoroughfares.

They discovered that their plan was illegal – the Department of Sanitation (DSNY) must approve all public trashcans. And so began a long, political, and intricate collaboration between the city, the state, and local community groups, businesses, schools and residents. That collaboration caused the project to evolve from a few trashcans into community trash plans and research on the sources, composition, and even educational uses of litter.

Thank You ExxonMobil

As fate would have it, Greenpoint is built on some of the most toxic land in the country, the site of a fossil fuel spill as much as three times larger than the Exxon Valdez disaster. Finally discovered in 1978, the Greenpoint Oil Spill released 17 to 30 million gallons of oil and petroleum products over several decades into the area around Newtown Creek.

Much of the oil came from refineries which would eventually be owned by ExxonMobil. A legal settlement between the oil company and the State of New York created the Greenpoint Community Environmental Fund, a money pot designated for neighborhood environmental projects. Money to make an officially-sanctioned impact, in other words, is there.

But getting it is hard, as getting any money through the labyrinthine system that is New York government is hard. Bauer and Minor asked the Greenpoint Chamber of Commerce (whose Treasurer is Exxon’s man for their remediation obligations) to partner with them on a grant application to the Environmental Fund. They also asked a sustainability consulting group named Closed Loops to conduct a study. And they called on local non-profits and schools for help.

By the time hundreds of residents, businesses, and all the other pieces were in place and the funding was approved, it was the end of 2014.

Time For Action

Beginning in March, the project took to the streets, hosting four public litter collection events in which over 200 neighborhood residents participated. DSNY approved the new trashcans with the understanding that the Chamber of Commerce maintains them over time, a collaboration that Elaine Brodsky, chairwoman of the Chamber, calls “an additional win for us” since the collaboration will continue “long after Curb Your Litter comes to an official end.”

curb your litter 3
Clean-up in action. Credit: Curb Your Litter

A big part of Curb Your Litter focuses on education. Students at Frances Perkins Academy, for example, are participating in a class taught by the Center for Urban Pedagogy that will culminate in a documentary film about our collective trash’s ultimate destination.

And the initiative builds on other community efforts, such as the Clean Greenpoint Pledge in which area businesses promise to help maintain clean streets. The Pledge campaign was launched in 2013 by local City Council Member Steve Levin and the Chamber.

So Where Does Our Litter Come From?

Closed Loops has begun a scouring analysis of the what, where, who, when, and how of Greenpoint’s litter.

Is the litter from individuals who don’t have a public trashcan immediately at hand? Is it from families dumping their trash because their housing situations make that the easiest option? Is it from large bags overstuffed and splitting open; renters taking trash curbside days before pickup; collectors of cans and bottles ripping open bags for their bounty and leaving what’s left to spill onto the street?

And what about the thousands of trucks that deliver a third of the city’s residential and commercial trash to North Brooklyn, home to the city’s largest concentration of waste transfer stations, every single day?

The official results will be issued later this month, though it seems there may be a lack of consensus about the litter’s origins. Preliminary findings indicate a great deal of the neighborhood’s litter is the menus and newspaper coupons dumped on front stoops. Bauer notes that the trash trucks are covered and does not credit them with any significant contribution to the problem.

In a story we ran in October of 2014, however, environmental justice advocates talked to us about the connection between local waste management operations and Greenpoint’s litter problem. They cited issues like leaking and improperly covered garbage trucks used by private carters. The waste management industry is well-established in North Brooklyn, and it may be that any contribution they make to the problem is one to be examined further down the line.

Changing Patterns of Behavior

Curb Your Litter’s preliminary findings also indicate that modeled behavior plays a big part in litter. If a trashcan is overflowing and that first person sets his coffee cup on the ground next to it, the next passerby with trash seems to feel freer to set her cup alongside it, and the pile grows from there. Bauer suspects that the ultimate culprit will prove to be inadequate collecting capacity.

“The sheer density of people here increases the amount of detritus in the streets,” she said. “We consume so much and generate so much litter that even if the streets were very clean, people would still litter. We need more trash cans and more trash pickup.”

And what about the psychology of littering, the social or mental mechanism that leads people to drop junk on the streets and keep moving? “I think values shift when there’s this idea that you’re sort of anonymous,” Bauer said, “and nobody’s going to see you littering. And they shift when other people have done it, too.”

Which begs the question: Are values really values when they disappear so quickly?

But that’s a study for another day.

NYC’s Plastic Bag Bill Lives Despite Mayor’s Ambivalence

New York City’s “Plastic Bag Bill” is not dead. Stuck in legislative purgatory since late 2014, the bill has seemingly gathered momentum in recent months—but will it be enough to push the Mayor off the sidelines?

Councilmember Brad Lander of Brooklyn has been holding summertime reusable bag giveaways, including one last week in front of City Hall. Lander and other supporters of the bill, including Councilmember Costa Constantinides, are putting bags in the hands of New Yorkers—perhaps persuading some folks who are reluctant to pay for a once-free plastic bag.

But, one crucial ally is still missing: Mayor Bill de Blasio. While the recent OneNYC Plan commits the city to dramatically reducing plastic bag waste, the Mayor has offered scant details on how that’ll happen. For now, it’s not the proposed bag bill; the Mayor has steadfastly refused to weigh in on the legislation.

Co-sponsored by Lander and Councilmember Margaret Chin, the Plastic Bag Bill would require New York City stores to charge 10 cents for every paper and plastic bag they give out. Stores keep the fee. There are exemptions for meat and produce items, as well as for New Yorkers using the WIC and SNAP programs.

At the City Hall giveaway, Lander said he was “hopeful” the Mayor would “finalize his position” in the next few months.

The legislation needs a mere four more votes to pass in the City Council—what’s holding de Blasio back?

Reason #1: Is It Basic Math?

Plastic bags wave from a tree in New York City.
Plastic bags wave from a tree in New York City.

Perhaps it’s simple political math: with his poll numbers faltering and a recent string of political misfires, the Mayor may be reluctant to throw weight behind another seemingly unpopular measure.

A recent poll by NBC News 4, The Wall Street Journal and Marist College sure makes the bill sound unpopular: 63% of respondents opposed the proposed 10-cent charge.

But at last week’s giveaway, Lander noted that he talks to numerous New Yorkers at similar events and “everyone agrees: something needs to be done.”

The numbers bear this out. New Yorkers throw out 5.2 billion plastic bags each year, which costs the city over $12 million a year to transport to landfills. And at last Thursday’s event at least, New Yorkers seemed pleased to get reusable bags and receptive to the idea of changing ingrained habits.

Reason #2: New Yorkers Love Free Plastic Bags?

The Plastic Bag Bill would place a 10-cent fee on each bag handed out by retailers.
The Plastic Bag Bill would place a 10-cent fee on each bag handed out by retailers. Photo credit: William Miller.

As Councilmember Lander conceded, New Yorkers are reluctant to pay for something that used to be free.

But is this a perverse bit of New York entitlement? Do we think we’re owed free plastic bags? Are we simply too stressed to remember to bring reusable bags with us? Or, are we all so cranky from other urban inconveniences that we resent yet another expense, albeit a seemingly modest one?

We certainly don’t seem to think the bags are worth the money. In his recent opus on the bag battle, New York Magazine’s Adam Sternbergh noted that “(O)ne paradox of the pro-bag position is having to argue that plastic bags are a valuable commodity that people nonetheless aren’t willing to pay a few cents for.”

There are some folks who re-use the bags as trash liners and makeshift tote bags. Virtuous as this may be, plastic bags can only be re-used for so long before they end up in the trash. Some folks also claim the bags don’t lead to litter, a charge that’s hard to square with Bag It NYC’s map of errant plastic bags.

Reason #3: Is It Government Over-Reach…Or An Attack on the Poor?

Opponents have done a good job re-branding the bill as a tax and another “nanny-state” overreach. While the ten-cent charge is a fee, not a tax (the dime goes back to store owners, not the government), New Yorkers may generally be skeptical of government efforts to re-shape habits. Witness the fate of former Mayor Bloomberg’s over-sized soda ban.

And, despite exemptions for New Yorkers using food stamps and WIC, there have been charges that the proposed fee disproportionately targets poor and minority residents, an assertion that has to give pause to a Mayor who won office in part by promising to end New York’s yawning income gap.

It also might explain City Council Speaker Melissa Mark Viverito’s reluctance to endorse the fee. A leading Bronx reverend recently urged the Speaker to “sack” the fee lest it “push vulnerable families, seniors and immigrants from slipping below the poverty line.”

Councilmembers Brad Lander and Costa Constantinides hand out reusable bags to eager New Yorkers.
Councilmembers Brad Lander and Costa Constantinides hand out reusable bags to eager New Yorkers. Photo via Brad Lander.

This puts a sharper focus on Lander’s bag giveaways. Getting free reusables into the hands of New Yorkers might put a friendlier face on the bill, showing that the fee is not part of a government-engineered “stick” meant to beat New Yorkers in to better habits.

Rather, the city is willing to help its citizens make practical, achievable changes that will curb waste and save money. This sort of community outreach worked in Washington D.C., where a recent 5-cent fee was much more enthusiastically embraced.

We’ll see if there are more bag giveaways here…and if they stir the Mayor and Council Speaker to some sort of action.

De Blasio Administration to Require Composting by NYC’s Largest Food Waste Generators

By Eric Goldstein, New York City Environment Director, Natural Resources Defense Council


The administration of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is unveiling a new proposal that will require the largest generators of food wastes here to arrange for composting of those materials, rather than sending them to landfills or incinerators.

The new program is designed to cut methane emissions from landfills and make waste disposal practices more sustainable in the nation’s largest city.

It will apply to approximately 350 of the biggest food generators in the city, including hotels with 150 or more rooms, arenas and stadiums with at least 15,000 seats, as well as large-volume food manufacturers and food wholesalers.

composting 1
New York’s largest food waste generators will soon be required to send their organics to composting facilities, like McEnroe Organic Farms, pictured here, under a new sustainability initiative being advanced by Mayor Bill de Blasio.

A 2013 New York City law, originally proposed by former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, set the stage for today’s action.

The statute was intended to solve a Catch-22 problem that has long confronted city officials – you can’t have a successful, wide-scale composting program for food scraps and yard waste without having nearby composting facilities that will accept such materials; and such facilities won’t be built or expanded until the business community is assured that there is a reliable supply of these organics, which will be available to serve as their feedstock.

To that end, the 2013 law directed the Sanitation Commissioner to evaluate the capacity of nearby facilities that would accept organics like food scraps and yard waste for composting (or for similarly sustainable disposal processes like anaerobic digestion).

Then, if the Commissioner found that there was sufficient capacity and that the cost of such processing was competitive with landfilling or incineration, the Commissioner was to adopt a rule requiring all food generators, or a subset of such generators, to insure that their food wastes were composted (or handled in another sustainable manner approved by the Department).

Consistent with the 2013 law, Commissioner Kathryn Garcia and her staff spent the past year analyzing the capacity of food waste processors within 100 miles of New York City to accept organics from in-city food establishments for composting.

The Commissioner’s analysis identified between 100,000 and 125,000 tons per year of mostly privately owned capacity in the region for processing the city’s commercial food waste. And the 350 waste generators who will fall into the first subset of waste generators produce approximately 50,000 tons per year of food waste.

In total, the city’s commercial establishments generate roughly one million tons a year of organic waste. So today’s action will need to be followed up with more expansive directives over the next several years, so that the program ultimately includes all significant food waste generators in New York City. This is apparently what the de Blasio administration plans to do. The Mayor’s recently released OneNYC sustainability plan has adopted an ambitious goal of “zero waste,” which aims to reduce by 90 per cent the amount of New York City trash sent to landfills by 2030.

(Today’s announcement deals with food waste generated by commercial establishments in New York City; this waste is collected by private carters. The Sanitation Department is already conducting a separate pilot project that collects food waste for composting from over 100,000 households and over 700 public schools across the city.)

NRDC welcomes today’s announcement. We believe it sends a clear signal to the business community that New York City’s commitment to composting and more sustainable waste handling is here to stay and that this policy determination presents new investment opportunities for composting and related facilities.

Additionally, the new de Blasio plan can become a saber in the fight to curb climate-altering methane emissions from landfills. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, landfill gas emissions are the third largest source of methane emissions in the country, and organics like food waste which produce methane when they break down in landfills are the major contributor to this problem.

Today’s proposal must still go through a formal rule-making proposal this fall before it is adopted in final form. And NRDC will be reviewing that proposal with great care, as well as commenting on the program details, to insure that the administration’s admirable sustainability objectives will be fully incorporated into the final rule.

Landfills are the third leading source of climate-altering methane emissions in the United States, according to the U.S. EPA. And the U.S. has greater landfill methane emissions than any other country, as illustrated above. Requiring food waste generators to send their organics to composting facilities, as New York City is beginning to do, can help curb these emissions.

On the eve of July 4th, the de Blasio administration’s new commercial composting program brings New York City one step closer to declaring its independence from environmentally troublesome, methane-generating, climate-altering landfills.


This article appeared yesterday on Switchboard, the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council. Read Eric Goldstein’s blog here.

We thank Eric for allowing us to re-publish this article.

Trash Collection System for NYC’s Businesses Unsustainable, Say Advocates.

The waste collection system used by New York City’s businesses is “inefficient, ad-hoc and chaotic” and causes direct harm to a handful of low-income communities of color, says a report released yesterday.

What’s more, the way commercial trash is handled in New York will make it difficult for the city to meet its recently adopted commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050, the report claims.

New York City produces roughly 21,000 tons of solid waste every day; over half of that trash comes from private businesses.

The report released yesterday, prepared by Transform Don’t Trash NYC, a coalition of environmental justice organizations and labor unions, found that:

  • New York City’s businesses generate about 5.5 million tons of waste annually—2 million tons more than previously estimated.
  • Hundreds of private hauling companies collect waste from businesses nightly using “overlapping” and “inefficient” truck routes. The trash is delivered to transfer stations and recycling facilities concentrated in just a handful of communities. This waste is then transferred to long-haul trucks and taken to landfills in several states.
  • The recycling rate for commercial trash is about 25 percent, “significantly worse” than the 40 percent commercial recycling rate claimed by the Bloomberg administration, and lower than the national average of 34.5 percent. The recycling rate for NYC’s major private haulers could be even lower—only 9 to 13 percent in 2014, according to reports filed by waste companies with the state.
  • Emissions of methane and other greenhouse gases from landfills storing NYC residential and commercial waste have been estimated at 2.2 million tons per year, and “are probably much higher given new estimates of the amount of waste generated by the city’s business sector.”

What’s Next?

Advocates say they will push the New York City Council to draft legislation to “bring the industry into the 21st century.”

The Council’s Sanitation Committee will hold a public oversight hearing on the commercial waste industry next week, April 29th. Representatives of the waste industry and the City will presumably also be on hand to discuss the state of commercial trash collection.