What Is Composting and How Can I Start?

People in New York City generate 12,000 tons of waste every day.

That’s 8.76 billion pounds a year — about 12.4 times the weight of the Empire State Building, or of all the people in Manhattan on any given day. 

It takes incinerators in New Jersey and landfills in several eastern states to get rid of it all, and the space available is not infinite.

Fortunately, things don’t have to be this way. The city of New York is shooting for a zero waste stream by 2030, and composting is one of the easiest and best ways to start.

What Is Composting?

Composting is the breakdown of organic matter into fertilizer that plants can use. And since almost a third of the waste the New York City Department of Sanitation picks up is organic waste, that could be a big deal.

Think of all the organics you toss out of your kitchen every day — every watermelon rind, lettuce scrap, bread crust, used napkin and rotten tomato. If you collect it, put it in a bin or a pile, kept it moist and turn it every once in awhile to let oxygen into it, over time friendly bacteria and other organisms will break it down into a rich, black, odorless substance that loosens soils, retains water around plant roots and provides delicious nutrients to succulent new vegetables, crops and landscaping plants.


How Can You Compost?

Most city dwellers don’t have a whole lot of room to pile their kitchen trash while they wait for it to decay. Because of that, it takes a village to get a good composting program going, and groups have come together to help you do it.

It starts with you, of course, but you have the easiest part. All you have to do is set aside a bin in your kitchen to toss your food scraps and food-soiled paper. You can buy special pails for that purpose complete with odor filters if you would like, but anything with a closeable lid will keep your scraps bug free and odorless as long as you don’t keep them around too long. So what do you do with them? This is where the village comes in.

Groups Can Compost For You

The city has started a pilot organics collection program to provide curbside pickup of composting stuff in special bins. Some areas are automatically included, and commercial buildings or buildings with 10 or more residents can request the service.

You can also drop off your food scraps at special Department of Sanitation collection sites throughout the five boroughs, or drop it off at one of 42 open-air farmer’s markets and collection boxes coordinated by GrowNYC. Scraps delivered there go to a network of community farms that cook it into fertilizer for their new produce. Try to keep meat, fish and animal waste out of the stuff you drop off there, though — it can make for some nasty developments in the compost process.

Or You Can Do It Yourself

Finally, if you’re a little more adventurous, you can try producing your own compost indoors with a worm bin, which is pretty much just what it sounds like — a composting condo for worms. A city brochure will tell you how to make your own out of inexpensive materials.

The tonnage of composting materials collected citywide increased 15 percent in 2015 over the previous year and organizers hoped for another 20 percent gain through 2016, according to David Hurd, director of the Office of Recycling Outreach and Education.

To learn more about the programs yourself, take a look at this video from NYXT.nyc, where you can always stay up-to-date on the next big thing in New York City.












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