They landed without warning on my block in Park Slope last week, these snazzy NYC Organics Collection bins, delivered to each household, free of charge, by the Department of Sanitation. Suddenly I'm part of the DSNY's $10 million pilot program for recycling organics, in which all of my food scraps, food-soiled paper, and yard waste (if I had that) will be picked up curbside twice a week and turned into compost and/or mulch by the city.

Several of my neighbors greeted the news with skepticism—the program is voluntary at this point, and they are not likely to dive right in—but I've decided to embrace my inner urban farmer and do the best I can to comply. Here's what I've learned so far...

The DSNY is generous, equipment-wise. My building's Organics Recycling kit included a heavy-duty curbside bin—way too large for our needs, but complete with wheels and an elaborate lid-latching system that keep aromas in and raccoons (or worse) out—as well as three small collection buckets for the various kitchens, also sporting impressively sealable lids.

Organics are gross. No getting around it, a bucket filled with banana peels, radish greens, cow fat, coffee grounds, pig bones, all stewing at room temperature for even 24 hours, is disgusting. You will want to empty your bin often.


Compostable bags are the way to go. I pictured myself being all hard-core and just dumping my food into the naked plastic, fuck bags, maaan!, but... no. The giant curbside bin would just be too nasty to clean every week (there are no drainage holes in the bottom, for obvious reasons), but you can buy a box of 30 three-gallon DSNY-approved compostable bags, the perfect size for your kitchen bin, for about $6.50.

I don't have room for this! Suck it up dude. Losing ten inches of counter/floor/cabinet space isn't a tragedy. Switch stuff around. Figure it out. Don't you want to leave a better world behind for your grandchildren?

I am terrified of fruit fly infestation. My home is small. Even a tiny "flock" of those little suckers will make me feel itchy until February. If things get bad come high summer, I might have to put my participation on hold. (Sorry grandkids!)

Overall, recycling your food waste isn't convenient or pleasant or fun, but like a lot of household chores it's mostly a matter of adopting a new routine, and then it just feels normal. Like separating your paper, and bottles, which seemed like a logistical impossibility when that program was first introduced here in NYC in 1989. Besides, even though I don't have to do it yet, I can't think of any reason not to, and still be able to live with myself.

The DSNY Organics Collection residential pilot program began in May 2013 in several Staten Island neighborhoods, and has been slowly rolling out in the Bronx, Queens (parts of Glendale, Maspeth and Middle Village are coming up in June), and Brooklyn, with my end of Park Slope and Gowanus joining Windsor Terrace, Bay Ridge, and Sunset Park. In Manhattan, the Helena building (on 11th Avenue and 57th Street) has joined the pilot program, as well as Morningside Gardens and 23 other multi-unit apartments. A Department of Sanitation spokesperson could not say when the pilot would be further expanded in Manhattan.

Communities dominated by small buildings and single-family homes are getting first crack at the program, but the DSNY is actively pursuing more large buildings and institutions to volunteer. All the compost and mulch created by the program is given away to other city agencies (think: Parks Department) as well any non-profit organization who wants in on the action and goes through the application process.