“New York is the greenest community in the United States. The most devastating damage that humans have done to the environment has arisen from the burning of fossil fuels, a category in which New Yorkers are practically prehistoric by comparison with other Americans.”
David Owen, Green Metropolis: Why Living Smaller, Living Closer, and Driving Less are the Keys to Sustainability
Let’s begin by owning that as a city we’re already doing a surprisingly good job of keeping our footprint low by simply living in NYC, driving less, living close by to where we want to go, and walking more. Happy Earth Day!
Now– let’s talk about garbage!
If you didn’t know already, garbage in NYC is transported to landfills outside of the state. Ohio, Pennsylvania and New Jersey all have landfills full of old clothes, packaging, paper, the contents of our last closet purge, and lots and lots of food waste. This last one is the most unfortunate, because food was meant to compost back into the earth and enrich the soil for the next growing cycle. If we can keep food out of landfill and find a way to send it back to the soil that grows our food, we’re giving our future food the opportunity to be at least as nutritious as the food that came before it. It’s a simple concept. However, when you live in New York City where backyard gardens and opportunities to compost are scarce it seems like the only option for our food waste is to throw it into the landfill with the rest of the garbage.
So here’s a happy story about what we’re doing here at the 14th Street Y, a Jewish community center in the East Village of New York City. Most of the people who walk through our doors are small apartment urban dwellers. Their days are full and they are busy, either with family life, crazy jobs or a combination of those. The Y is a place that serves the community. We’d been composting within the building for about a year (afterschool snacks and banana peels had a different place to go than the trash can) but this March we chose to begin a community composting pilot—an opportunity for our members and patrons to sign up and drop off their own food waste with us.
Like composting itself, the concept is simple. After signing up with us, people were asked to save all their food waste; this includes the usual stuff like fruits, vegetables, peelings and cores, but also meat, bones, grains, dairy, even wooden chopsticks and paper take out containers. They bring their food waste in used milk cartons or paper bags, both of which are compostable, or in compostable bio bags. We used a waste hauling company, IESI to take the compostables to a plant where they would be processed into composting soil and made available to local farms. We made a goal to divert 1 ton of food from landfill by Earth Day 2013, which we easily achieved.
It’s been amazing to see how many people would like to compost and will compost when there are sustainable ways of doing so. Would you like to compost with us? Contact Camille_Diamond@14StreetY.org to sign up!
If you’re not currently a member or patron of the Y but want to get into composting yourself, there are other options available. Here’s a list of some of the best of them. Every composting program has a list of what they can and can’t take, so please make sure you double-check their lists before dropping off your compost.
- NYC Greenmarkets have drop off programs for organic food waste, and it’s easy to remember to bring your food waste when you’re going to purchase more fresh, local food for your family. http://www.grownyc.org/compost/locations
- There are experts in composting at Lower East Side Ecology center. They can show you how to do your own composting…with worms! http://www.lesecologycenter.org/index.php/composting.html
- Vokashi is a home composting service that lets you compost in your own kitchen with a special fermentation process in an odorless bucket. Then…they pick it up! http://www.vokashi.com/
- You can get involved with your local schools by creating and registering a school garden! Composting can be a great part of a garden like this, and an opportunity to compost and learn together! http://growtolearn.org/view/registergarden
Finally, if you would like to start a community composting project like we did at the 14th Street Y, Please let us know! We’ll put you in touch with the right people and cheer you on from our downtown corner in the East Village. For more about our program, just visit www.14Streety.org/compost.