Composting in the City

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For some city dwellers, composting is as easy as adding your food trimmings and other compostables to the yard waste bin.

The Lower East Side Ecology Center works to teach locals about the benefit of composting in New York City. Photo: Lower East Side Ecology Center

But for the millions residing in urban areas without compostable pickup, this reduction endeavor requires a bit of additional effort.

Andrew Hoyles, the compost educator at the NYC Compost Project in Manhattan works to teach people about the many urban options available.

Started in 1993 by the NYC Department of Sanitation, the NYC Compost Project offers composting outreach and education services to NYC residents in a variety of venues including community gardens, schools and businesses.

In Manhattan, the Lower East Side Ecology Center hosts the Compost Project. Hoyles offers these tips for those who may be reluctant to start the process because they are short on time or confined by square footage.

Problem: I don’t know where to start

Getting the composting project going can be a little daunting, but there are a multitude of resources. In addition to many helpful sites on the Web, municipal initiatives like the NYC Compost Project offer classes and workshops on building and maintaining composting systems.

For those living in New York City, contact the Compost Project in your borough to find out about indoor and outdoor composting workshops. If you live outside the Big Apple, get in touch with your local municipality’s waste management department to learn more about your composting options.

If programs don’t yet exist, encourage your local city council and mayor’s office to enact waste reduction initiatives and composting programs. Also check with local community gardens to see if they will acceptable your compostables.

The Lower East Side Ecology Center has free compost collection at the Union Square Greenmarket, and they also have a drop-off at the center’s community garden.

Problem: I have no space in my home

When your apartment is a kitchen, bedroom, and living room all in one, it’s often hard to consider ceding space to anything other than a bookshelf or larger bed.

If you are among the millions feeling pressed for square footage, Hoyles recommends an indoor worm bin, which takes up very little space and is an efficient method for composting.

Don’t worry about bringing worms into your tight quarters, either; the bin filled with your kitchen scraps keeps them contained and contented.

The Compost Project sells worm bins and worms, and they also offer workshops about how to make your own bin. According to Hoyles, “A single person using a small worm bin can produce about thirty pounds of compost in four months.”

Problem: I don’t have enough time

If you decide that it makes sense to take your compostables elsewhere, you may find that differing schedules make it necessary to store your compost until you can make the drop.

“You can store your food scraps in a container and compost materials later. There are several options for compost pails, and you can store these in the freezer or fridge to keep them from starting to smell. Once they fill, take them to your compost site,” says Hoyles.

He also recommends checking with your local community garden to see exactly what it will accept and whether or not your need to be a member of the garden to donate your compost. Those living in New York City can check the NYC Wasteless website to get more information about composting drop-off locations and hours.

Problem: I don’t cook enough to compost

Another common side effect of limited space is a small kitchen and lots of meals eaten out. Even if the contents of your fridge consist of beer, three kinds of mustard, and a bevy of to-go containers, chances are that you still produce compostable waste.

The Lower East Side Ecology Center will accept the following for their community garden compost, and even the seasoned non-cook is likely to find some of these items in their trash:

  • Fruits and veggie peals

    The average New York City household throws out over two pounds of food waste per day, amounting to more than 3,000 tons of organic matter that must be trucked off to distant landfills.

  • Non-greasy foods
  • Rice and other grains
  • Cereals
  • Coffee grounds
  • Tea bags
  • Egg shells  (rinsed)
  • Nut shells
  • Flowers
  • Potting soil

Problem: Even if I composted, I have no use for the finished product

Step one: accumulate food scraps. Step two: compost. Step three: add nutrient-rich compost to the soil.

Steps one and two are easy, but for city dwellers, finding the soil might seem like the tough part. According to Hoyles, there are plenty of plants in your neighborhood that would be grateful for some compost.

“Often the trees in front of people’s apartments get mistreated with traffic and animals that use the trees as a bathroom, which leaches the nutrients from the soil. Adding your compost to a tree pit will help to support its life, or you can give your compost to a community garden or nearby park.” Hoyles also suggests adding a bit of compost to your houseplants.

Just in case you need more convincing

“The benefits of composting are numerous. Composting is the natural way that organic waste should be processed, and you will create compost for gardening, tree pits, and indoor plants,” says Hoyles. “It’s also an easy way to reduce your individual waste significantly.”

Urban composting efforts need buy-in from residents in order to flourish. Cities like San Francisco, where composting is mandatory, have been able to run successful programs thanks to the eager participation of residents.

Read more from Libuse Binder at Weekly Way and Ten Ways.

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