NYC's Composting Infrastructure and a Green New Deal
This spring, advancements in green infrastructure in New York City were set to take hold, but instead, an unexpected and unprecedented pandemic hit. Currently, the budget to one of NYC's greenest infrastructures is cut.
May 7, 2020
New York City has the largest potential for composting infrastructure of any city in the U.S., processing 3.1 million tons of garbage in a year. A third of those 3.1 million tons could be used to revitalize soil, create bio-gas, and remain out of landfills, where materials that can otherwise be composted will produce methane - the greenhouse gas that is 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide.
Currently, all composting programs in NYC are shut down due to budget cuts surrounding COVID-19.
What it takes to build composting infrastructure
In such a large city and with such a diverse range of people, cultures, classes, abilities, etc., bringing people together around any new infrastructure is challenging, and building that new infrastructure takes time and diligence. Research for the city's composting program started in 2001, and after years of different trials and studies, implementation began to take hold in 2011. Legislation to turn composting into a mandatory city-wide program was considered early on, though it was never enacted.
The expense and complexity of implementing this program in such a large city, especially when the most recent composting rate was only 10% for people who were able to participate, could easily deter representatives from embracing new legislation to make it mandatory. Today, we are under an immense amount more pressure as Council Members Antonio Reynoso and Keith Powers put together bills to make composting mandatory and to create new collection points in every borough, all in the midst of a pandemic.
When composting is widely used across all boroughs, it will ultimately cost tax payers less. However, it will cost the city more initially.
What we can learn from the past
After 9/11 the city cut off funding for recycling in order to adjust the city's budget. When funding did come back, it took the city years to recover its recycling rates. Even now, recycling rates are less than 20% in NYC. Unless there are recycling bins at every corner, forget it. New Yorkers will toss their trash where they feel they need to.
When recycling was first introduced to the city as a mandatory program in 1989, property taxes rose by 18.5%. Even at that, recycling was only set up, in large part, as a residential program.
To increase property taxes at all in order to implement mandatory composting at this time would be devastating for far too many people who can't afford to pay rent as it is. So, Reynoso and Powers must be creative in either finding other avenues for funding or implementing a very strategic roll-out plan.
Council Member Reynoso has already been so detailed and thorough with his work to create environmental justice through the Commercial Waste Zone Bill, which became law in October 2019. This bill called for each borough to process its fair share of trash in order to relieve the Bronx from the majority of the city's waste it was taking on. In the areas where waste was processed, asthma rates showed to be significantly higher. Additionally, the long routes that carters took to haul trash from one borough to another would cause a regular occurrence of 10 to 20 hour work days. Through commercial waste zoning and through careful efforts to create greater opportunities for carters who treat their workers well, the bill was a greater success than many had even hoped.
Today, there is hope that Reynoso, Powers, and their allies can rise to a new challenge, even in these most trying times.
The Green New Deal comes in bits and pieces
With food waste accounting for 8% of greenhouse gas emissions globally and with the earth's soil in deep need of repair, there is no question that handling our food waste in a way that helps it return to the earth more strategically is necessary. Figuring out the logistics for how to get there is how we make these changes, step by step.