By Daniel Katzive
“The only way to get rid of the rats is to do organics,” City Councilmember Gale Brewer told the crowd at a rally on Thursday at City Hall in support of three sustainability bills being introduced to the Council.
A bill by Council Member Shahana Hanif of Brooklyn calls for a return to citywide curbside collection of organic material. The other bills being introduced require the city to set up three sites per borough for the recycling of electronic and organic waste, and to mandate that the city to meet its goal of sending no more waste to landfills by 2030.
“Gale is adamant about the need for universal organic curbside pickup and plans to be a co-sponsor of the bill,” Edward Amador, her communications director told WSR. In a follow up email he cited studies indicating, if the city could divert organic waste from landfills at the same rate as recyclables — around 15% — the cost of collecting and processing organics would come into line with the overall costs of managing waste in the city. Supporters of the bill at City Hall also stressed this point: reducing the volume of organic waste reaching landfills is key to meeting the city’s climate goals for reduced greenhouse gas emissions.
The city’s curbside organics recycling program was eliminated during the pandemic and has currently only resumed in select districts and on an opt-in basis. Residents (or building managers) in seven of the city’s 59 Community Board districts, including CB7 on the Upper West Side, can request a brown organics collection bin from the Sanitation Department (DSNY), which is picked up on collection days.
There are also food scrap drop-off sites across the city, including several at the various weekly greenmarkets throughout the UWS. DSNY told WSR that organics collected in Manhattan are currently brought to the Department of Environmental Protection’s (DEP) anaerobic digester in Brooklyn, but at other times, organics could also be brought to DSNY’s Staten Island compost facility and similar facilities elsewhere. The DEP’s digesters can help convert organic waste and sewage to biogas and to fertilizer products.
According to DSNY records, CB 7 averaged 3.0 tons per day of organics collected in February, 2022. This made it the second highest contributor of organics in Manhattan that month, behind only District 3 on the Lower East Side. This is still 15% below the levels of organics collected in February 2020, before the pandemic. District 6 in Brooklyn had the highest numbers in the city in February 2022, but was also running well below February 2020 rates.
The proposed sustainability bills are supported by at least eight of the City Council’s 51 members who attended the rally. The Mayor, however, may have different views on how far to expand organics collection just now, given fiscal constraints. According to DSNY spokesman Vincent Gragnani “the mayor’s Executive Budget includes funding to continue existing curbside composting services and expand those services within the Community Boards already receiving service.”
Gragnani notes “The budget will continue to fund food-scrap drop-off sites, and will add funding for 100 ‘smart’ bins across the city that can be accessed with a key or app 24/7. It will also expand organics collections over the next two year to include all Department of Education schools in the city (currently roughly half the schools participate).”
In contrast, Brewer insists the city needs “100% organic collection at the curbside now”. Brewer told the rally Thursday, “There is no downside, none, to universal mandated absolutely today composting at the curbside.”