Editor’s note: This story has been updated following the announcement of new temporary funding for additional New York City Compost Project community partners. An updated comment from New York City Council members has also been added.
A group of organizations donated funding to keep the community compost programs run by Big Reuse, Earth Matter NY and the LES Ecology Center alive “into spring,” the groups announced Wednesday.
Home food recycling system Mill was among the group of donors which provided $350,000 in support. The funding will keep more than 40 people working for the next few months, according to the release, though the partners noted more would be needed to close the $3 million gap caused by budget cuts through June 2024.
The annnouncement follows an anonymous donation last week to pay for the positions of 53 workers who run GrowNYC's community composting program, the union representing the GrowNYC workers announced. The last-minute donation came just five days before their program was set to sunset as a result of New York City budget cuts.
"This is an indication that all of the advocacy work [the GrowNYC Workers’ Collective] has been doing, since November 17 when the proposed budget cuts to eliminate community composting completely was first publicly known, was effective because it came from the heart of our unrelenting passion for our local communities," the group said in a press release on Dec. 13.
The collective, part of the the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, has been vocal and organized in its opposition to the cuts, staging a rally near New York City Hall on Dec. 6 protesting the elimination of the NYC Compost Project. GrowNYC is responsible for managing programs such as 200 food scrap drop-off points at city farmers markets.
Several city council members spoke in support of the program at the rally. Others expressed their displeasure with the loss of city funding for the community compost program at a council hearing on Monday.
"The council feels strongly about” the community compost program, Council Majority Leader Keith Powers said at the hearing. “It's a valuable and popular program."
The city’s community compost partners are responsible for composting an estimated 8.3 million pounds of food waste and distributing over 1.7 million pounds of compost per year. The donation to GrowNYC will allow workers to continue their job through the end of the year on June 30, and Mill and its partners are hoping to ensure the same. But the workers supported by the donations risk unemployment again once the funding expires.
“We want to make clear that we are committed to an enduring fight for our workers in the NYCCP, ensuring community composting is processed locally with finished compost provided for free to our parks, community gardens, street trees, and the public," the GrowNYC Workers Collective wrote in their announcement.
The elimination of the community composting program came as part of a request from Mayor Eric Adams sent to all agencies to cut budgets by 5%. In addition to its decision to cut the program, the city’s Department of Sanitation also elected to reduce litter pickup service and delay the rollout of curbside organics collection in the Bronx and Staten Island from spring to fall, among other decisions.
The mayor can make the cuts at his discretion, Council Member Lincoln Restler told the Brooklyn Solid Waste Advisory Board last week. But he said council members are planning to push back and may find a way to save the program when the council can next weigh in on the budget in the new year.
In a joint statement on Wednesday, New York City Council leaders praised the outside support for community composters while insisting that NYC Compost Project partners should be receiving money from the city and should not need to rely on outside donations.
“We are relieved that a second wave of philanthropic funding will preserve operations of the remaining community composting programs into the spring, including those run by Big Reuse, Earth Matter NY, and LES Ecology Center... However, it must be reiterated that philanthropic support for community composting should supplement, not supplant funding from the City,” said Council Speaker Adrienne Adams; Council Member Sandy Nurse, chair of the Committee on Sanitation and Solid Waste Management; and Council Member Justin Brannan, chair of the Committee on Finance, in a statement.
A representative from the Queens Botanical Garden confirmed that Mill’s announcement does not cover budget cuts to their composting operations, or those of other borough-based botanical gardens. While QBG said it intends to continue composting in the near term, the staff that lead its outreach and education through the Master Composter Certificate program are being laid off.