Jessica Tisch, New York City's sanitation chief, hopes to keep billions of pounds of organic waste from ending up in landfills. But she needs to figure out where to put it all.
The sanitation department plans to provide every New Yorker with the option to voluntarily participate in curbside compost collection over the next two years, starting in Queens on March 27.
New Yorkers generate about 8 million pounds of organic waste daily, according to the sanitation department, most of which ends up in landfills producing the greenhouse gas methane.
New York City’s composting program has languished for years due to a lack of funding, and only a handful of neighborhoods now have curbside composting service. But sanitation officials are hopeful that the citywide expansion will bring higher participation rates. A pilot expansion across all of Queens last fall collected more than 12.7 million pounds of organic waste in three months, compared to 2.1 million pounds collected in the seven districts with existing composting collection service.
The city currently sends large amounts of yard waste to a New Jersey compost facility. The remaining organic waste is turned into slurry and sent to the Pine Island Farm in Massachusetts or the wastewater treatment plant at Newtown Creek in Greenpoint, where some of it is converted into biogas.
Manhattan is the last borough to receive the expanded composting collection service, with an expected launch date in October 2024. That’s by design, Tisch said at a City Council hearing on Wednesday. The sanitation department needs time to find more processing facilities for the organic waste instead of sending “all of Manhattan’s organics to the northern part of Brooklyn.”
“It just unfairly puts too many trucks there” at Newtown Creek, Tisch said. Her agency has 19 months to find “the appropriate plan for what we're going to do and how we are going to process Manhattan’s organic material.”
Sanitation plans to issue a request for proposals this summer to expand its processing capacities.
The city expects to spend $45 million this fiscal year for new compost collection trucks to expand the curbside compost program, including 90 trucks that Tisch said will be delivered in time for the program’s launch in Brooklyn this fall.
Tisch said she hopes the citywide expansion means New Yorkers will eventually compost at least half of their organic waste instead of sending that garbage to fester in landfills. She acknowledged that goal was “ambitious” and years in the making.
“This is what the city is going to be doing now for generations to come, which is why it's so exciting,” Tisch said.