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Organic Recycling Hits a Speed Bump

The city’s Department of Sanitation (DSNY) announced in late 2018 that due to low participation it was halting expansion of its curbside organics recycling program, which it had hoped to offer citywide by the end of the year. Low participation levels have led to “unreasonably high” collection costs: $1,700 to collect a ton of organic waste; $686 for recyclables; and $291 for regular garbage.

The city is on an ambitious campaign to stop all shipments to landfills by the year 2030. Organics and recyclables each account for about one-third of the city’s total waste output. There are currently 3.5 million New Yorkers receiving curbside pickup of their organic waste. But only about 10 percent of their organic waste is currently being fed into the composting system; the other 90 percent continues to go to landfills, where it produces methane, a greenhouse gas. Still, the city has made strides. Last fiscal year, under the voluntary program, New Yorkers recycled and composted 43,000 tons of organics, including food scraps and yard waste. By comparison, Seattle and San Francisco, where organics recycling is mandatory, each collected about four times as much.

“If a building’s participation in the organics recycling program is low, our community outreach team will sometimes revisit and encourage residents to participate by educating them on the benefits of organics recycling,” says DSNY press officer Dina Montes. “In lower-density neighborhoods where organic curbside collection is available, DSNY and its partners conduct door-to-door outreach to encourage participation.”

Is it any wonder that passionate recyclers are frustrated? Co-op and condo board members report residents complaining that the additional recycling is an inconvenience, though supporters insist that the payback of organic-waste recycling far outweighs the minor inconvenience of carrying organics to the brown bins.

Fears of smells and vermin associated with organic waste may be an additional roadblock to widespread acceptance of the curbside program – especially among people who don’t realize that the brown bins have sturdy latches. As DSNY Commissioner Kathryn Garcia concedes, “We are having to overcome the ‘ick’ factor.”

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