Organic Waste Collection is Temporarily Suspended in NYC

In the face of an unprecedented fiscal crisis resulting from COVID-19, Mayor Bill de Blasio proposed a $2.7 billion budget cut for next year. Part of these adjustments includes a $24.5 million cut in funding for New York City’s organic waste recycling program. City officials, residents, and activists are moving to salvage pieces of the existing program and expansions that had been introduced before the pandemic. 

A total of $106 million in cuts have been proposed to the New York City Department of Sanitation (DSNY) – including $21.1 million and $2.2 in cuts for the suspension of the organics and hazardous waste programs, respectively; $7 million in cuts to the curbside e-waste program and community composting projects; $9.3 million in cuts for litter, rat prevention and syringe collection; and $2.9 million in cuts for recycling outreach programing. The suspension is currently planned through June 30, 2021. DSNY has recommended that residents clean and store their brown compost bins for when the program resumes, and encouraged residents to compost on their own if possible. 

Before the COVID pandemic, Mayor de Blasio promised to expand NYC’s organic waste collection program citywide. NYLCV Education Fund’s NYC Climate Tracker showed slow progress on this goal.

Food waste and yard scraps account for one-third of NYC’s residential waste stream, totalling to approximately 1 million tons of refuse per year. The waste is typically sent to rot in landfills across the country, where it emits methane, a potent greenhouse gas. The organics recycling programs aim to avoid such environmental consequences, while keeping in mind the justice and equity issues of waste distribution in different socioeconomic neighborhoods across the city. Existing drop-off locations have been closed to allow for social distancing guidelines and to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus, and community organizations that process food scraps such as the Lower East Side Ecology Center or the Brooklyn Botanic Garden are being impacted as well. Environmental advocates criticized the budget cuts to the organics collection program, arguing that it is an important step in reducing NYC’s greenhouse gas emissions. In 2014, de Blasio pledged to lower emissions by 80% by 2050. 

City Councilmembers are readying legislation to create organic waste and e-waste drop-off sites to compensate for recycling budget reductions. Under the Community Organics and Recycling Empowerment (CORE) Act, sponsored by Council Member Keith Powers and Sanitation Committee Chair Antonio Reynoso, the city would create three organics recycling drop-off sites in each community district by June 2021. Council Member Antonio Reynoso is sponsoring a similar bill for electronic and hazardous waste. “The devastation of the COVID-19 pandemic underscores that we must do all we can now to avoid the larger crisis that looms before us: climate change,” said Reynoso. 

Various environmental organizations view the legislation as an important part of a larger effort to reduce New York City’s climate change impact, to save and create green jobs, and to protect public health. The city’s Independent Budget Office has calculated that if all the organic waste generated by New Yorkers were recycled into compost, it could produce over $12.5 million in revenue. And if those materials were turned into biogas and used to generate electricity, the potential revenue could be as much as $22.5 million. The sponsors of the bill argue that retaining organics collection now could make it easier for recycling programs to bounce back in the future, pointing out that the city’s composting rates never fully rebounded after the Bloomberg administration suspended plastic and glass recycling in the midst of a recession in 2002. Saving NYC’s recycling drop-off sites are imperative to creating a zero-waste future in an equitable manner. 

You can support the CORE Act by sending a message to your elected officials to pass the legislation. Click here to take action.