The city’s revived organics recycling program is a fraction of what it once was; but many in the South Bronx say it never went far enough
Community composting and food scrap collection sites are on their way back to the South Bronx.
Just months after cutting its budget entirely in March, the New York City Council and Mayor Bill de Blasio voted on July 1 to restore $2.8-million to the New York City Composting Project for the 2021 fiscal year.
A mere fraction of the $24.5-million once devoted to organics recycling citywide, the funds will go toward relaunching community food scrap donation and pickup sites. Neither residential pickup nor farmers market collection are likely to return before next summer.
The move to slash composting entirely sparked outcry across the city. The Natural Resources Defense Council called the decision “the most environmentally destructive” of the many cuts made to the New York City Sanitation Department (DSNY)’s budget in March.
Indeed, the environmental benefits of composting are ample: Composted soil retains water and reduces runoff, diverts waste from landfills and prevents the release of methane, a greenhouse gas 26 times more potent than carbon dioxide.
Composted soil is also naturally nutrient-rich — and as one of the largest carbon stores in the world, second only to oceans, soil is a resource worth protecting, says Jodie Colón, NYC Compost Project Manager at the New York Botanical Garden, one of seven organizations partnered with the NYC Composting Project.
“If we can keep our soil healthy and keep replenishing that health by putting compost into it, we can have these bigger impacts,” Colón says.
Mychal Johnson, Mott Haven resident and South Bronx Unite founder says he primarily uses compost in the vegetable beds at the Brook Park community garden, where he is a member. To Johnson, maintaining a robust composting service in a well-documented food desert is about more than the climate: It’s a matter of public health.
“We hate the fact that the city stopped picking up,” Johnson says. “I think the organic collection and the compost bins is a part of public health. And that should never be something we cut back on.”
Though the restored composting services are only a slice of what they once were, Johnson is among several who believe the program wasn’t developed enough to begin with. He notes that community buy-in was limited: He seldom saw the now temporarily defunct brown bins out for residential pickup around his neighborhood. Dior St. Hillaire, composting advocate and founder of environmental consulting group Green Feen says the area was missing vital community education efforts around how to compost.
“These brown bins, nobody knew what to do with them,” St. Hillaire says. “People were putting all kinds of trash in them.”
She believes a rebuilt residential composting program will only be successful in the South Bronx with community outreach and input.
“There needs to be education in the schools, there needs to be advertisements on the buses, there needs to be commercials on the local TV stations,” she says. “Put messaging out in the unique ways that speak to the people and the demographic of the community.”