While San Francisco claims to have reduced landfill usage by 80 percent, and Seoul, South Korea, a city of 10 million, claims that it saves $600,000 daily by charging residents and businesses fees for discarded food scraps, New York City’s composting, where food scraps account for an estimated one-third of all garbage, is hardly making rapid or dramatic progress.
In 2015, Mayor Bill de Blasio introduced the “Zero Waste” initiative, aiming for a 90 percent reduction in landfill use by 2030. A cornerstone of the plan was a robust compost program, where organic matter would be placed in brown bins provided by the city, picked up by the Sanitation Department, and then sold or delivered to places that turn the food into compost for gardening or convert it to energy. It is the largest compost program in the country, with brown bins for 3.5 million residents across the five boroughs, said Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia.
But the program picked up only 43,000 tons of food scraps last year. That’s about five percent of the city’s total food waste sent to landfills. For those following the Zero Waste target: We only have 85 percent more to go.
The brown bin compost program, which started as a small pilot program on Staten Island in 2013, was expected to expand citywide by the end of this year. But the pickup service in some of the 24 neighborhoods where it is offered has been reduced and expansion plans have been delayed.This leaves many New Yorkers wondering whether a composting program across the city will work. Here is an explanation of where things stand.
How does composting save money?
The less we export to landfills, the more money we save.
The city will spend $411 million in 2019 to export about 2.5 million tons of residential, school and governmental trash to landfills located as far away as South Carolina. In 2014 the city spent $300 million. The export cost is expected to increase to $421 million by 2021.
“At this rate, we will be spending half a billion dollars,” said Antonio Reynoso, chairman of the City Council’s sanitation committee.
Is composting lucrative for the city?
Not yet. The compost program cost the city $15.7 million this year, and unlike recycling (which costs less to process than landfill waste, according to Mr. Reynoso), so far it doesn’t bring in much money. Last year, the city earned $58,000 from selling compost, according to the Sanitation Department. So there’s room for growth.