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Organics Recycling Wins a Major Convert

Bill Morris in Green Ideas

Gramercy Park, Manhattan

Brown Bins I

Brown bins for DSNY's curbside organic waste collection (photo by Danielle Finkelstein)

When Rei Moya moved up from Florida last year to take the job as director of environmental services at the massive Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village apartment complexes on the East Side of Manhattan, he didn’t know much about recycling in New York City. But it quickly became apparent to him that the city’s longstanding campaign to recycle the usual suspects – glass and plastic, paper and cardboard – was failing to address a huge part of its waste output, namely organic kitchen waste and yard waste.

In fact, as Moya soon learned, organic matter – eggshells, coffee grounds, chicken bones, grass clippings, and such – accounts for about one-third of the city’s residential waste, roughly one million tons a year, and the vast majority of it is still being sent to landfills, where it generates methane, a greenhouse gas. This presents a huge challenge to a city that has announced its intention to eliminate all shipments to landfills by the year 2030.

But Moya saw encouraging signs close to home. Since 2015, Stuyvesant Town had been running an organics recycling program at its weekend farmers’ market in conjunction with GrowNYC, a nonprofit that promotes recycling, greenmarkets, and community gardens. And the city’s Department of Sanitation (DSNY) was already engaged in an aggressive campaign to expand its pickup of organic waste, both at curbside and at designated drop-off centers, then ship it to composting centers, and finally bring a portion of the compost back into the city to nourish urban farms, parks, tree pits, and community gardens. Nearly one million New Yorkers are already participating, with more than two million more expected to sign on this year. The city’s goal is to make organics recycling available to every city resident by the end of 2018. It dawned on Moya that he was looking at an astonishing opportunity.

“After a couple of months on the job, I realized waste is a huge issue in New York City,” says Moya, who started meeting in late 2016 with numerous DSNY officials and with David Hurd, the director of Zero Waste Programs at GrowNYC. Hurd was delighted by the prospect of having a property with 27,000 residents in 110 buildings participate in curbside pickup. It would be by far the largest in the city to recycle its organic waste – and a signal to smaller properties, including co-ops and condos, that it can be done.

“Rei saw it as workable,” Hurd says, “and management wanted to pursue it. A lot of credit goes to Blackstone, which is making a commitment to the complex. Sustainability is part of their 20-year plan.” Hurd is referring to the Blackstone Group, which, along with Ivanhoe Cambridge, bought the two complexes for $5.3 billion in October 2015.

Once the decision was made to move ahead with curbside organics recycling, GrowNYC worked with Moya to educate residents, setting up tents on the complex’s outdoor common areas. “We talked to as many people as possible, gave them DSNY literature, just tried to get the word out,” Hurd says. Mailers were sent to residents, and instructional videos played on TV screens in laundry rooms and other indoor common areas. Moya trained his 195 staff members, thrice-weekly curbside pickup schedules were worked out, and a total of 330 sealable brown plastic bins were delivered by DSNY (three per building). Finally, in December 2016, Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village became part major new additions to the city’s organics recycling program.

Today, 15 percent of the residents are participating, and the complexes are diverting 10,000 pounds of organic waste from landfills every week.

If your building has 10 or more apartments and you want to enroll in the city’s organics recycling program, watch this video.

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