Composting in NYC isn’t as hard as you might think

By Mary Cella · Apr 16, 2019 · ·

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New York City offers many ways to lessen your carbon footprint, from its extensive public transit system to sustainable grocery storesto recycling events held across the five boroughs. One of the easiest ways to make your urban lifestyle greener is to start composting. According to the city government, food scraps and yard waste make up one third of our trash, so the city is making it convenient to dispose of those items in an environmentally friendly way.

Composting wasn’t something I thought was accessible before I got to New York, but after I moved here I noticed the compost bins at my local farmers’ market and decided to give it a try. I was sick of rotting food stinking up my trash, and figured it would be easy to store food scraps in my freezer and bring them to the market every Saturday. That was years ago and I haven’t looked back. I often find myself explaining to friends and acquaintances just how easy composting is, but to avoid continuing to yell instructions at people in crowded bars, I’ve compiled my best advice here.

Get your supplies

This probably seems like an obvious first step, but for some reason it took me years to buy a proper compost bin. So take it from a lazy person like me: if you want to start composting, get a bin specifically designed for that purpose! Until recently, I was throwing all my orange peels and stale bread into a big tupperware which I kept in my freezer. It did the job, but I realized it would be nice to make space for food in there, so I decided to purchase a compost bin.

I chose this affordable Epica Stainless Steel Compost Bin, which is small and attractive enough to keep on my counter and big enough to hold a normal week’s a worth of compost. I was skeptical when I read that the bin comes with a filter that blocks odors, but it works. The filters last a while (two months in, mine’s going strong!) and replacements are cheap. I even bought some compostable bags that fit in the bin so I can tie up the bag and throw the whole thing away at the farmers’ market.

Compost pickup

If you live in a neighborhood with organics collection, you should receive one important additional supply: a brown collection bin. You can apply for one here or talk to your super or landlord about joining the program. Organics pickup is always expanding, so if you don’t see brown bins in your neighborhood now, you probably will soon. Just check to see which day organics are collected in your neighborhood and leave your food scrap bin on the street, just like your trash and recycling.

Compost drop off

Though I envy my neighbors who leave their little brown compost bins on the street, my building is too large to participate (buildings with more than nine units are still ineligible). Fortunately, there are other ways to dispose of compostable waste. Most greenmarkets in New York have a section for compost drop off. Every Saturday, I bring my compost to my local farmers’ market, dump it in one of their gigantic containers, then ride the high of knowing I did something positive.

There are 60 GrowNYC Food Scrap Drop-Off sites across the city, so you should be able to find a location near you. Some, like the Union Square Greenmarket, even welcome compost drop off several days a week. After you drop it off, remember to buy a bunch of fresh produce so you have something to throw away next week!

What you can and can’t compost

Most food scraps are compostable, but you’ll need to throw some in the trash. In fact, what you can put in your bin depends on whether or not your compost is picked up or dropped off. Any and all produce and yard waste is compostable, along with grains like rice and bread, eggs, nuts, coffee grounds and uncoated, food-soiled paper products.

If you participate in organics collection, however, you can throw some additional items in your brown bin, including meat, dairy products and seafood shells. Check out this handy list of items you can put in your brown bin. GrowNYC drop off sites are pickier, so check out their guide here.

Composting for your own garden

Are you one of those fabled New Yorkers with a backyard? If so, skip pickup and drop off and complete the composting process yourself. All you need is an outdoor compost bin like this one, which you can leave in your backyard and fill with food scraps and yard waste. These bins are designed to “cure” your waste and turn it into fertilizer, which you can put right into your garden. If you have a vegetable garden, you will see your waste go through the full cycle from vegetable to soil to vegetable once again.

What happens to your compost

Once your food scraps and yard waste join the piles of organics across the city, they’re taken to one of several sites to be turned into soil, then used in local urban farming and gardening projects. Instead of going to a landfill, your waste is used to make our city greener!

Photo Credits:

  1. Photo by Kyle Ellefson on Unsplash
  2. Photo courtesy GrowNYC.org
  3. Photo by Sven Scheuermeier on Unsplash
  4. Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

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