The Nature of Cities Festival

Sharing a virtual micro-talk on Designing Urban Biocycles for NYC: Regenerating Urban Soils with Food and Landscape Waste for the Nature of Cities Festival.

Developing a plan for NYC organic waste

A well designed plan for organic waste is essential for NYC to become a green, resilient and just city. The city has suspended DSNY curbside organic waste collection, as it costs five times more to collect than garbage. For more details, see OpEd. But if designed well it should cost less than garbage, and bring many other benefits to the city. Designing collection, composting and urban farming into streetscapes and open space can make them affordable and accessible to all. This will create green local jobs, engage communities, improve sidewalks, and reduce greenhouse gases, trucks, inequities and air pollution.

Scale up community composting

Community compost operations exist throughout the city but need to be scaled up, and supported. If all of the city’s landscape waste, such as leaves and tree and shrub trimmings, is combined with food scraps in the right ratios for good compost, it can regenerate all of the city’s soils. Using the compost produced for urban greening will reduce flood risks, cool summer air and support urban agriculture and healthy eating initiatives. The city needs to support composting in green spaces, but instead NYC Parks is not renewing leases for community compost operations. Instead, they should follow the lead of Battery Park City, Hudson River Park or Domino Park and collect community food scraps and compost with their own landscape waste to improve their parks and support local urban agriculture efforts.

Provide curbside organic waste containers

Designing containers into streetscapes allows drop-off for residents and small businesses without enough space or labor to manage organic waste inside their buildings. It also frees up space on sidewalks, and reduces odors and rats. Digital technology can be used to restrict access, reduce contamination, charge businesses, incentivize residents and reduce collection trips. Low impact vehicles can collect waste and take to small local compost operations, sited in open green space. The city needs to pilot and evaluate a design and develop a plan to provide them across the city.

Incentivize equipment to scale up processing capacity

The city generates more food scraps than it can accommodate within community composting operations, even after scaling up. Rather than trucking heavy odorous waste, equipment can be used in buildings to reduce the volume of waste by up to 90%, or convert it into organic fertilizer which can be used in the regional farm system. Micro-anaerobic digestion is also sometimes suitable for larger volumes of waste. The city should pilot these equipment types, and develop a program to require and incentivize them.