I remember one day standing outside by the truck and watching the sanitation workers lift garbage pails into the back of the truck. Then, to my surprise, they lifted the glass and paper recycling too.
I gasped and asked my friend what was happening. He was smoking a cigarette and shrugged, "yeah, isn't it stupid?”
“They cancelled recycling to save money after September 11 and they still aren't doing it right again,” he continued. “I only separate the glass bottles out so our friend Tripod can take them. That's the only real recycling we have."
Tripod was a man who lived on our corner who collected cans and bottles for a living.
It angered me to learn that our recycling program was basically fake, and I watched with interest as the city hobbled back towards reinstating an effective program. It was a joy to watch waste diversion programs expand.
Last summer, I attended a zero-waste conference held by the Department of Sanitation, and I learned about the many innovative ways the city and affiliated social enterprises were experimenting with zero waste.
The biggest initiative was composting and food waste diversion, working to establish networks to take unbought or unconsumed food and put it into the hands of those who need it.
The networks were vast and creative, and the strategies were expansive. The initiatives I got most excited about were closed-loop systems, which meant that the used item was turned back into raw material. I remember hearing about an initiative that was focused on turning old hotel bed linens into paper products.
To hear the news that the mayor is cancelling the composting program for at least one year gives me a bad feeling. I know it took years of advocacy and pilot programs to get the organic waste program off the ground. It's likely it will take even more advocacy to get it back.
Additionally, the organics program was curbing a number of problems. Organic waste sent to landfill is a major contributor to greenhouse gases, is more toxic than carbon dioxide emissions, and causes terrible odors and rodent infestations.
It is also expensive. According to hauler Waste Management, organic waste sent to landfill costs us over $160 million per year. According to the Department of Sanitation, the organics program was taking over 300,000 pounds of waste every day and processing it into fertilizer.
While postponing or cancelling might make short-term fiscal sense, it is disastrous to our longterm progress on climate change, reducing landfills upstate, and the health of our planet, which is our most urgent longterm issue.
There is much that we can do in the interim. Composting at home is possible, but we need to push the city to keep doing collections either curbside or at least at public drop-off sites.
The city is cancelling both the curbside composting program with the brown bins, as well as community-based composting, where you drop off your organic material at a site. Community composting not only provides an opportunity to eliminate waste, but also provides jobs and education.
To save community composting, click here.
There is also a petition circulating on Change.org called "Mayor de Blasio: Composting Is Essential To NYC." I urge you to sign it. We have to advocate to preserve the progress we've made. It was an enormous achievement and one we will be grateful for in the future.