City officials and residents are scrambling to preserve as much of the organic waste recycling program as they can after Mayor Bill de Blasio all but obliterated New York’s efforts with his coronavirus budget cuts. Council Member Antonio Reynoso, the chairman of the sanitation committee, plans to introduce bills that would expand organics recycling in the city. The first piece of legislation would add new drop-off sites for compostable materials throughout the five boroughs. Another bill that is still being drafted would eventually make the recycling of organic waste mandatory for all New Yorkers — a push kicked off by Council Speaker Corey Johnson before the virus took hold in the city.
Meanwhile, some residents are turning to the private sector to pick up their food waste, with a few residential buildings already inking contracts with commercial haulers. Proponents say it’s a worthy cause. “It’s hard won — this concept of [managing] to create some kind of closed loop system in New York and reduce your waste,” said Gabriela D’Addario, a 32-year-old Greenwich Village resident and avid composter. “The culture is so driven by disposable stuff [and] there’s something very satisfying about standing up to that and finding out there are other people in New York that care about these things.”
Before the pandemic, D’Addario collected her leftover food scraps in old milk cartons, which she dropped off once a week at the Union Square Greenmarket compost bin. She was working to enroll her building in the city’s curbside collection program for organic waste when the budget was cut. “I think it’s a tragedy,” D’Addario said of the proposed cuts. “I feel like it’s unlikely it will ever come back.”
Leftover food waste and yard scraps make up one-third of the residential waste stream, amounting to roughly 1 million tons of refuse a year. This so-called organic waste is then sent to rot in landfills across the Eastern seaboard, where it emits methane — a potent greenhouse gas. The city’s organics program attempted to put the trash to better use.