- New York City is reviving efforts to expand residential curbside organics recycling service with a program that will cover an estimated 2.2 million residents in the borough of Queens. “This will make New York City home to the largest curbside composting program in the nation,” said Mayor Eric Adams at a Monday press conference.
- Weekly service will start Oct. 3 for all residents before pausing in late December for a three-month winter break and resuming again in March. No signup will be required, and bins will be sent automatically to all buildings with 10 or more units. Food and yard waste will be collected separately.
- While similar service isn’t yet planned for the other four boroughs, Department of Sanitation Commissioner Jessica Tisch pointed to the rollout of 250 new “smart” organics drop-off bins in certain areas as a sign of expanding access.
New York’s organics collection efforts have seen many twists and turns in recent years, affected by pandemic budget cuts and other operational challenges. While yard waste collection has been a more longstanding service in the city, finding an efficient way to manage residential food waste has been a key goal to make progress on broader zero waste aspirations.
After a pandemic disruption, the city resumed food waste collection for select areas in Brooklyn, Manhattan and the Bronx last fall. Adams paused any further expansion after he took office earlier this year, however, due to cost concerns. Residents had to sign up for that program, which will continue to be available. During the announcement event, Tisch said the new Queens program will be less expensive, more efficient and easier to use.
“The next organics program that we roll out in New York City must be our last,” said Tisch. “For organics to work, it needs to penetrate beyond the true believers, and for that to happen, it needs to be simple to use.”
Queens was selected for the expansion because it generates an estimated one-quarter of all organic waste in the city and has a wide array of housing stock, ranging from dense multifamily buildings to single-family homes with larger yards. The latest DSNY statistics (which cover July 2021 through May 2022) show Queens had the second-highest tonnage of organics collected curbside per day, with Brooklyn ranking first. Officials also described the decision as a way to improve equity, since Queens is regularly cited as among the most diverse counties in the United States.
Tisch said the city does not plan to make participation mandatory at this time. She expressed optimism that greater flexibility on bin types would entice more residents and building managers to participate, describing the program as a “net new service” rather than a burden. While brown bins will be sent to all large buildings, and residents in smaller buildings can request their own bins, the city will also accept food waste in any type of sealed container and yard waste in bags.
Certain commercial establishments are already required to divert their organics under an existing policy that DSNY started enforcing again last month after a pandemic pause.
Local legislation that would require DSNY to roll out residential organics collection citywide remains pending, with a large majority of support among council members and a rally planned by the sponsors to boost the bill this week. Council Member Sandy Nurse, who chairs the council’s sanitation committee and is a primary sponsor of the bill, said in a statement that she supports the Queens pilot but sees the legislation as necessary so that service can be expanded citywide.
DSNY’s two primary destinations for its residential organics are city-owned sites in Queens and Staten Island. Some material goes through pre-processing at a WM facility before heading to a Queens facility for codigestion with wastewater. Other material goes to a Staten Island composting site that is operated under contract by a subsidiary of Denali Water Solutions.