As recycling organic waste becomes more important than ever in combating climate change, New York City is cutting back on organic recycling. The proposed Fiscal Year 2020 budget for the New York City Department of Sanitation (DSNY) does not include funding to expand the organics collection programs and puts more money into legacy waste management practices that produce greenhouse gases.
Reducing organic waste is crucial because these materials comprise about 30% of NYC’s total waste stream, which amounts to 1 million tons of waste. And it’s not just about volume. As it decomposes in landfills, organic waste generates methane gas, which is a greenhouse gas 25% more potent than carbon dioxide.
DSNY’s preliminary budget would put more money into personnel and hauling garbage to landfills in diesel-fueled trucks while limiting programs designed to encourage New York City residents to recycle organics.
Our NYC Program Director Adriana Espinoza testified at a City Council Sanitation Committee preliminary budget hearing. She pointed out that the proposed $55.1 million designated for waste prevention and recycling is a mere 3.1% of the preliminary sanitation budget and is a 9% decrease from last year’s budget. Meanwhile, nearly a quarter of the preliminary budget would go toward exporting waste.
These funding proposals are odds with the city’s goal of Zero Waste (0x30) in landfills by 2030. On top of that, DSNY has “paused” the expansion of its curbside organics collection program, which before the pause was the largest program of its kind in the nation. We believe that the budget should provide an investment significant enough to bring the organics collection program to scale citywide and stimulate market demand for food waste recycling.
Last year the city diverted just 17.6 % of its waste from landfills. That was just 2% more than in 2014. At that rate, the city will only be diverting 24% of its waste by 2030.
Espinoza said that reaching 0x30 means engaging all of New York including, government, private industry, and people. We proposed investing $10 million in a public education campaign around the organic waste and recycling programs available to residents. New Yorkers need to know why it is important to recycle and compost to make a direct connection to climate change. These programs need to show how recycling helps the city meet its sustainability goals and fight global warming in the process.
We also call for making maintenance staff in the city’s larger buildings into allies in this public education campaign. Getting buy-in from this key group on the front lines of waste collection could exponentially increase recycling. Espinoza stressed the importance of getting children on board by expanding educational programs in public schools and encouraging better source sorting in school cafeterias.
While we recognize the logistical challenge of organic recycling programs, if the administration is serious about its zero waste, it should allocate enough resources to bring scale to organic recycling throughout the city and to create a demand in the market for regional processing facilities for such waste.
We will continue to advocate for greater investments in organic waste collection and greater consistency between the City’s budget and its 0x30 goal.