On June 15th, the City Council Committee on Sanitation and Solid Waste Management held a hearing on Intros 244, 274, 275, 280 and 281, various promising bills centered around composting that may significantly reduce waste in New York City and resultantly bring about local and climate benefits.
Setting the tone for the hearing, Sandy Nurse, chair of the committee, opened with enthusiasm. She emphasized that this hearing on the zero waste legislative package has been highly anticipated for years, and she noted the universal curbside organics program in particular as the clearest path towards achieving zero waste in NYC. As only 17% of NYC’s daily generated waste is diverted away from landfills or incinerators, the bills discussed in the hearing have great potential to raise the diversion statistic further. Nurse concludes by expressing optimism at the level of support the bills already have – the focus of the hearing, and the focus of the coming months, is on the logistics of implementation. How can action be taken cost-effectively? How will the programs be rolled out? These are the sorts of questions expected to be answered in the near future.
The commissioner of the New York City Department of Sanitation (DSNY), Jessica Tisch, also provided relevant testimony that highlights key concerns moving forward. Tisch emphasized that the programs moving forward must be uncomplicated and straightforward for New Yorkers to ensure that any programs are understood and utilized to the greatest extent.
NYLCV hopes to ultimately move to zero waste and achieve its climate goals by improving waste management. Specifically, we highly value composting programs and other progressive recycling programs. NYC would expect to see a wide range of beneficial results by introducing an efficient composting system – a comprehensive compost collection system in NYC would reduce waste sent to landfills by one-third, reduce greenhouse gas emissions by reducing the transportation of waste and waste decomposition in landfills, and it would fight rat and cockroach infestations that thrive on food waste.
The bills discussed at the hearing, introduced by Councilmembers Hanif and Powers, have a chance to achieve exactly this. The CORE Act bills aim to further improve diversion rates by establishing community compost and recycling systems; this was a high priority for NYLCV last year and was on our 2021 scorecard, so we are especially pleased to see these bills in the hearing. Intro 244 expands a curbside composting pilot as originally intended; this pilot program has been stalled for a considerable amount of time, so movement finally resuming is a positive step towards ensuring composting becomes more widespread in the city. Finally, Intros 274 and 275 would codify the 0x30 goal – achieving zero waste sent to landfills in NYC by 2030 – and require the DSNY to report its progress towards achieving this goal.
NYLCV strongly supports these bills, and we share Chair Nurse’s excitement that they have finally appeared at a committee hearing. We hope to see continued vigor in the pursuit of waste management and composting goals, and we are eager to see this pursuit move the needle on our citywide and statewide climate change goals.
That being said, NYLCV also emphasizes the importance of setting feasible timelines to ensure the programs are productive. The 0x30 goal was introduced in 2015, yet diversion only shifted from 15% to 18% by 2020. This statistic suggests that reaching 90% diversion by 2030, only 8 years in the future, is unlikely. The timeline for the vital curbside composting pilot is also far too short considering the magnitude of the task. The bill aims to establish the citywide program for its targeted buildings by mid-2023, but much groundwork must be laid before the program can be implemented. The city will need to distribute specific bins for the compost, establish and schedule truck routes to collect the compost, and more. Furthermore, residents must be properly educated on how to compost in order to ensure participation and correct recycling practices. The bare minimum to jumpstart the program is still a large undertaking, rendering the short deadline unattainable. Additionally, significant amounts of funding will be needed to back the programs laid out in the hearing. If realistic timelines are not set for the proposed programs, the programs will not be productive. As Commissioner Tisch stated, participation in the composting programs is key to ensure their effectiveness and success. We look forward to working with the City and DSNY to facilitate this transition and determine feasible timelines.
By Elijah VanderMolen