By next fall, Manhattanites will have to separate their food waste from the rest of their trash. The Zero Waste Act, passed by the city last week, mandates the composting of food waste by all city residents, but it will roll out in the outer boroughs first.
The new legislative package is an ongoing expansion of the Sanitation Department’s curbside collection program. Noncompliant residential buildings will be subjected to fines similar to those associated with recycling.
Non-compulsory composting has already been rolled out in Queens. The curbside service is expected to reach Manhattan by October 2024, which will make it the last borough to receive these resources. As such, Mayor Adams promised Manhattan residents back in February that an additional 150 Smart Composting Bins would be installed throughout the borough starting in the spring. An April 2023 greenhouse gas report determined that food waste accounts for 20 percent of New York City’s greenhouse gas emissions, exceeded only by emissions from buildings and transportation including autos and mass transit.
Councilman Keith Powers, the Democratic majority leader and a co-sponsor of the Zero Waste Act, shared that, “Zero Waste Act mandates city-wide composting. As recent, devastating wildfires and historic air pollution have vividly shown us, it is crucial we act now to protect our environment and create a better, greener future for us all.”
Councilwoman Sandy Nurse from Brooklyn interpreted this legislation as a triumph against what she labeled as “environmental racism” calling its passing “an act of solidarity with predominantly low-income and communities of color living near landfills and incinerators.”
The law requires the Sanitation Department to educate residents on how to properly participate in composting. However, critics point out even if appropriate educational materials are distributed, the city still lacks the resources necessary to manage the 8 million pounds of organic waste produced by residents daily.
Currently, there are four food waste processing centers within the city that are able to compost waste or facilitate anaerobic digestion to convert the waste to natural gas, which means that large amounts of waste are outsourced to out-of-state facilities. Jessica Tisch, the commissioner of the Sanitation Department, concedes they still need more time to come up with a composting execution plan.
As recent, devastating wildfires and historic air pollution have vividly shown us, it is crucial we act now to protect our environment and create a better, greener future for us all.” City Council Democratic Majority Leader Keith Powers