STATEN ISLAND (PIX11) — During the next year and a half, New York City will roll out the largest municipal curbside composting program in the entire country.
The environmental impact, the reduction of rats and the changes to the city’s sanitation department are all expected to be seismic.
PIX11’s Henry Rosoff got an inside look at how the city is expected to handle the hundreds of millions of pounds of food scraps and yard waste produced each year.
The Deputy Director of Compost, Ian H. Twine, took PIX11 on a tour of the Sanitation Department’s Staten Island yard where large tree trunks and branches are mulched, and those bags of half-eaten food is fed to a big blue machine called the Tiger.
It growls while sorting out all the plastic and non-organic material that gets mixed in and produces a rather gross oatmeal-like slurry.
The mixtures are then dumped into rows to cure naturally before it’s moved to bigger piles.
About seven months after it arrives, a conveyor belt machine filters out those last few bits of garbage before it’s officially called compost.
Compost is great for gardening, planting and filling. Unfortunately, the city uses or gives away about 40% of it and sells the rest.
As Twine walked PIX11 around the location, one of several that breaks down organic material for the city, he stressed the importance of just putting basic table scraps and yard waste in those bins, especially as curbside composting goes citywide.
“Not your spoons or plastic wrapping; keep it as clean as possible,” he said.
The importance of this became apparent. Unfortunately, something caught the tiger by the toe during the visit, grinding the operation to a halt.
The facility’s “Mr. Fix-it” Bobby Porter climbed into the belly of the beast for a “Dirty Job” reminiscent of the famed Mike Rowe show.
Shifting through the organic material, Porter finds a whole bunch of stuff metal that’s not supposed to be composted.
“Time is money,” said Twine reflecting on the machine being stopped for at least a house to clear it. “We’ve had trumpets, car parts, engine blocks, to be precise.”
Many more New Yorkers will soon learn the do’s and don’ts of organic waste over the next year and a half.
The path to citywide curbside composting looks like this:
March 27: Queens composting returns after a winter break.
- Oct. 2: All of Brooklyn begins
- March 25, 2024: Staten Island and the Bronx
- Oct. 7, 2024: Manhattan
The city is already ratcheting up its equipment to handle the expansion. PIX11 got a sneak peek at specially ventilated rows of concrete, known as an air-rated static pile system.
It will allow the facility to handle 20 times more food waste in half the time.
“Keeping it simple works,” said Sanitation Commissioner Jessica Tischz
She said the curbside composting pilot program throughout Queens last fall really was a game changer. About 13 million pounds of organics were diverted from landfills.
It came at a third the city of previous smaller pilot programs where you needed to sign up, get a specific brown bin, and then be assigned a different pickup day for organics.
All of that got thrown out for a new, better playbook; according to Tisch, “lay out anything from your garden or your kitchen on your recycling day, and we’ll come pick it up—no need to use a special big. Use whatever bin you want. No need to sign up, no need to opt-in.”
The city is buying up more dual-bin garbage trucks to make this happen. DSNY also figured out how to boost participation of big buildings: deliver a large complimentary composting bin.
The Commissioner said it increased participation among condos and apartments exponentially in Queens.
At the Staten Island Facility, Twine was excited to show off compost being bagged and given back to the community, branded as “Big Apple Compost.”
He said as the expansion creates more compost, more will be given back to neighborhoods through community boards, turning what once was considered trash into treasure.