Wednesday, November 16

The Fate of Our Wastes

Compost at the Lower East Side Ecology Center
booth at the Union Square Greenmarket.
New Yorkers generate about 14 million tons of waste each year—but who is really the one taking out the trash?

The city agency known as the Department of Sanitation (DSNY) is responsible for collection refuse, which are the contents of trash bags and cans. For recycling, the DSNY currently collects paper such as newsprint, cardboard, but not napkins, tissues, and paper plates/cups. According to the DSNY website, approximately half the paper collected goes to five local paper processors in the metropolitan area. 

After being picked up by Department of Sanitation trucks, all of the plastics, cartons, and metal collected travels by barge or rail to the Sims Metal Management Municipal Recycling in Queens, the Bronx, or Jersey City. Sims Metal Management is also building a new recycling facility at the South Brooklyn Marine Terminal in Sunset Park. Construction broke ground in the summer of 2010, and the facility is scheduled to begin operating sometime between December 2012 and June 2013.
Model for the new Sims Metal recycling facility being build at Sunset Park
(photo credit: Sims Metal Management)

However, recycling bins are not always in sight when one is on the go. According to the New York Times article by Mireya Navarro, there are only 500 curbside recycling bins in New York City. The City Council hopes to double the number of recycling bins by 2020.

While the Department of Sanitation collects food scraps from some restaurants and businesses, the DSNY does not collect residential compost. According to the NYC Bureau of Waste Prevention, Reuse and Recycling website, “Although the potential for composting is considerable, currently only yard trimmings and Christmas trees can be cost-effectively collected and composted in NYC on a citywide scale.” However, there are locations in each borough that are part of the NYC Compost Project, where residents can compost their food scraps on certain days of the week.

Helen Chang, a parent volunteer from the
Grace Church School, composting at the Lower
East Side Ecology Center booth.
At the Union Square Greenmarket in Manhattan, people can be seen carrying bags of food scraps to dump into the large gray buckets provided by the Lower East Side Ecology Center. Aurelia Kaelin is the supervisor at the compost collection booth; she also gives advice about how to keep worm buckets at home. “The city always says that there is no space, no room [to compost],” said Kaelin. She usually collects about 8 buckets of compost on Mondays, 12 buckets on Wednesdays and Fridays, and 15-20 buckets on Saturdays.

Helen Chang, a parent volunteer from the Grace Church School, came to the Union Square composting site with a cart full of food scraps to compost. “The school does compost through the City, but they just couldn’t keep up with the amount of food waste being generated,” said Chang. About six months ago, she and nine other parents formed a volunteer group to bring the excess food scraps to the Greenmarket on Mondays and Wednesdays.

In 2007, Mayor Bloomberg initiated PlaNYC to make a greener New York by setting a goal to divert 75% of the city’s solid waste from landfills. When asked if she foresees the City composting on a large scale anytime soon, Kaelin responded, “They’ll have to come up with something sooner or later, there is just too much waste.”

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