How NYC Deals With Food Waste

By Shane Nelson

Compost bins at the Union Square Greenmarket

Compost bins at the Union Square Greenmarket

Each year, New York City generates over two million tons of food waste, which represents significant impacts to the environment via agricultural production, use of natural resources and fossil fuels, and production of greenhouse gases. In an effort to combat these impacts, the Office of Recycling Outreach and Education of GrowNYC launched a pilot program in March 2011 that featured food scrap collection sites at seven NYC Greenmarkets.

In April 2012, driven by demand as shoppers came out in droves to compost, the program was expanded as a partnership with the NYC Department of Sanitation (DSNY), and has now grown to 35 drop-off locations. To date, the program has diverted a whopping 2 million pounds of food scraps from disposal – enough to stretch the length of Manhattan from Inwood to Bowling Green. New Yorkers can drop off fruit and vegetable scraps for composting at ‘Sustainability Centers’ while shopping for healthy, local produce at the Greenmarket. The scraps are then transported by GrowNYC or the Department of Sanitation, with the help of community volunteers, to one of several local sites where the food scraps are transformed into a nutrient rich soil amendment for urban farming and greening purposes throughout the five boroughs.

The DSNY Bureau of Waste Prevention, Reuse and Recycling (BWPRR) continues to experiment with various models for convenient food scrap drop-off sites, including subway commuter drop-off sites, public library-based drop-offs, and a Zero Waste Island initiative on Governors Island. In May 2013, NYC began a bold, new initiative to provide curbside collection of organics. The program started in Westerleigh, Staten Island, and has expanded to include other communities in the Bronx, Brooklyn and Staten Island, as well as large apartment buildings on the west side of Manhattan, in parts of Brooklyn, and on Staten Island. DSNY’s organic waste collection is now reaching more than 30,000 homes and 200 public schools.

About the Author: Shane Nelson is a scientist in the Region 2 Sustainable Materials Management program and serves as the LGBT Special Emphasis Program Manager. Shane holds a B.S. in Biology/Env. Science from Auburn University and a M.A.S. in Environmental Policy & Mgmt from the University of Denver. Shane’s extensive experience in site remediation, RCRA, and TSCA has advanced projects during his 13 years at EPA and prior tenure with the Alabama Department of Environmental Management.  

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