Redesigning an affordable organic waste system for NYC to improve public space, health and equity

DSNY organic brown bins set out on the street alongside Bryant Park.

New York City’s Mayor de Blasio just committed to a green recovery that prioritizes equity, fairness, and the climate crisis. Composting, which creates green jobs, supports local food production, and increases environmental equity, should fit squarely within this mission. Yet, in this year’s crisis budget, the city cut all funding for organic waste collection.

Organic waste costs the Department of Sanitation (DSNY) five times more per ton to collect than garbage. Less than 4 percent of organic waste was separated by New Yorkers. Low participation makes collection inefficient, increasing costs and reducing benefits. The city’s OneNYC 2050 plan and many waste advocates believe the solution is to make organics separation mandatory. But is the current system designed to be scaled up?

NYC.’s trash bags are almost half full of organic waste. To comply with mandatory separation, a 250-apartment building would need at least 50 of DSNY’s organic waste bins. In a typical building setup, a resident puts trash into a chute which feeds into a compactor and bags, saving space and labor. The city’s organic waste bins can’t work with that setup. Most buildings don’t have ventilated space to store the bins, or enough labor to manage them. And DSNY workers would need to empty hundreds of bins by hand on every city block, weaving through parked cars to place them back on the sidewalk.

The system needs a redesign, so the city can affordably collect all organic waste, transforming an inequitable problem into a valuable resource.

See full Op-Ed in City Limits