NYC Moves Forward on Organic Waste Reduction

New York City has taken another great step towards meeting Mayor de Blasio’s OneNYC goal of  Zero Waste by 2030 with most recent the NYC Department of Sanitation (DSNY) organic waste collection rule, under Local Law 146 (2013) that went into effect on July 19th. This change is diverting a significant portion of organic waste that would traditionally be sent to landfills.

Organic waste is of specific importance for New York City, contributing one million tons of the waste being sent to landfills each year.  Not only is this a large amount of waste, but it also contributes to the release of greenhouse gases, such as methane as the food decomposes. Instead of landfilling organic waste,  there are two main ways to divert it: “digestion” and composting.  In a nutshell, digestion takes organic waste and breaks it down, capturing and reusing the gases and releasing environmentally-safe water into the sewage system. Composting creates nutrient rich soils that will prove to be effective in growing healthy, hearty crops and reducing or replacing the need for fertilizers.

As recognized last fall by NYLCV’s former NYC Program Director, Ya-Ting Liu, there were steps and recommendations identified on how to not only establish recommendations around the new ruling, but to make it a successful reality.  This rule affects approximately 350 establishments throughout the city, including stadiums, hotels, large restaurants, and other food and wholesale manufacturers.  The following parameters are in effect:

  • All food service vendors in arenas and stadiums with seating capacity of at least 15,000 people
  • All food service establishments in hotels with 150 or more rooms
  • Food manufacturers with a floor area of at least 25,000 square feet
  • Food wholesalers with a floor area of at least 20,000 square feet

Businesses are given a number of options for ways to divert their organic waste. They can hire a private courter, drop off the waste themselves, or process the waste on-site.  When electing to follow the most efficient (and cheapest) route of on-site processing, businesses will invest in an ORCA or similar processing machine. These machines process approximately one ton of organic waste per day through “digestion” and output water that is safe enough to dispose into the sewage system.

Currently, around 8-10% of New York City residents are already composting through a pilot program launched by the City & DSNY.  The program is aimed to expand to include access by all residents of the city by increasing curbside pickup and convenient drop off locations available by 2018.

Combined, these will be a great step in reducing the one million tons of organic waste sent to landfills each year.