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City to Mandate Composting of Yard Waste

New York City

Organics recycling, mandatory recycling, yard waste, greenhouse gases.
March 27, 2023

The Adams administration is proposing New York City’s first composting mandate — requiring residents who have yards to separate their leaves, flowers, twigs and grass clippings for compost. The mandate would affect garden co-op communities in the outer boroughs, many of which have campus-like grounds. The mandatory program would begin in Queens in June and would be rolled out over the next 18 months citywide, paralleling the rollout of voluntary curbside pickup of all organic waste. 

Jessica Tisch, the sanitation commissioner, tells The New York Times that making composting mandatory is important, and that it would be easy for New Yorkers to set aside yard waste and to place it out on their recycling pickup day instead of tossing it in the trash. “Yard waste is the right place to start because it’s something New Yorkers already naturally separate,” Tisch says. “There’s no real behavioral change required, and I think you have to ease into these mandates.”

The voluntary curbside collection of organic waste returns to Queens today, after a brief hiatus, and expands to the other boroughs over the next year and a half — to Brooklyn in October, to Staten Island and the Bronx in March 2024, and to Manhattan in October 2024. The composting of organic material — yard waste as well as food scraps, coffee grounds, egg shells and such — is designed to divert the matter from landfills, where it produces methane, a greenhouse gas.

For more than a decade, city leaders have been trying to promote composting, a process that turns organic waste into fertile soil, which is then returned to the city to nourish parks, gardens and tree pits.

Municipal composting took off in the United States in the 1990s after San Francisco became the first city to offer a major food-scrap collection program. It is now mandatory for residents in San Francisco and Seattle, and Los Angeles just introduced a composting mandate. Most experts agree that composting must be mandatory to be successful.

Julie Tighe, president of the New York League of Conservation Voters, applauds the city for its new yard-waste composting mandate and for continuing to make composting a priority. “This," she says, "is a big step forward toward getting full citywide composting and ultimately toward making it mandatory for everyone."

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