One-third of the city’s waste stream is made up of organic waste, much of it from food scraps and leftovers.
When food waste isn’t separated from regular garbage, it’s often sent to be burned in incinerators or buried in landfills, where it decomposes in the absence of oxygen and produces the greenhouse gas methane, which is up to 34 times more powerful than carbon dioxide.
Municipal solid waste landfills are the third largest source of human-related methane emissions in the U.S., and produced about 15 percent of U.S. emissions in 2018.
Landfills around the country are filling up and becoming more costly for cities to use for their waste. To meet the city’s goal of sending zero waste to landfills by 2030, we will need to prioritize composting our organic waste.
New York City has had the largest curbside organics recycling program in the world, serving 3.3 million people, supplemented by many food scraps drop-off sites throughout the five boroughs.
To fund emergency responses to the pandemic, Mayor Bill de Blasio cut $28 million for food waste collection and composting from the Department of Sanitation’s budget, which led to the suspension of many related programs in spring of 2020.
The mayor recently announced that curbside organic collection will be starting back up in communities where it was offered prior to the pandemic, but that service wasn’t available in Forest Hills.
All we had available was a weekly food waste drop-off site at the MacDonald Park greenmarket on Sundays, and the volunteer-run Compost Collective on Yellowstone Boulevard and Kessel Street on Saturdays.
Ever since that service was suspended, residents were asked to discard food scraps and yard waste with their trash, which has resulted in a tremendous loss of momentum for these vital programs.
Community outreach will have to be redoubled before their reintroduction. We urge the mayor and City Council to restore funding to composting and recycling programs as soon as possible, and to invest in community education about the many benefits of composting.
Fortunately, another option will soon be available. Starting May 16, Queens Botanical Garden is partnering with volunteers from Forest Hills Green Team and Friends of MacDonald Park, who will staff a Sunday food waste drop-off collection site at MacDonald Park in Forest Hills adjacent to the greenmarket.
Residents will be able to drop off their food scraps between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. QBG will pick up their containers and compost the food waste at their main facility. The finished compost will be returned to the community for distribution at the site.
QBG is seeking other organizations willing to host food waste drop-off locations in their community, perhaps where sites have previously been co-located at some of the 50-plus greenmarkets operated by GrowNYC.
We encourage other local groups to partner in these important efforts towards a sustainable future, and look forward to seeing our neighbors at our new composting site.
Dan Miner is co-chair of the Forest Hills Green Team. Aleda Gagarin is candidate for City Council District 29.