Will New York Become the East Coast’s First Zero-Waste Metropolis?

Mayor Bloomberg considers requiring New Yorkers to compost food scraps.

NYC residents, schools and businesses will soon be required to separate food scraps from trash. (Photo: Saul Loeb/Getty Images)

Jun 18, 2013· 1 MIN READ
Steve Holt is a regular contributor to TakePart. He writes about food for Edible Boston, Boston Magazine, The Boston Globe, and other publications.

By banning trans fats, targeting supersized sugary drinks, expanding urban agriculture, and ridding New York’s hospitals of junk food, Michael Bloomberg is already one of the most active food policy mayors in U.S. history. And it appears that he’s not done yet.

Before he leaves office next year, Bloomberg wants to put a dent in the amount of food the city’s numerous businesses and eight million inhabitants throw in the trash. According to The New York Times, the administration will soon announce that it is hiring a composting plant to handle 100,000 tons of food scraps a year—representing about 10 percent of the city’s residential food waste. In the United States and other developed countries, we throw out half as much food as we buy. In New York City, food that is unused gets buried in landfills, when it could be used to make compost or biogas.

“New York has been flirting with composting food scraps for several years, but it’s heartening to see that they are ready to announce a citywide effort to keep food out of landfills,” Jonathan Bloom, creator of WastedFood.com and author of American Wasteland, tells TakePart.

Under the program, which will start out as voluntary and eventually become mandatory, residents will be required to separate their food scraps into a brown city-issued bin. The rollout for the program will begin next year and could be citywide by 2015 or 2016, sanitation officials tell The New York Times.

But questions remain over whether residents and businesses will go along with the plan peacefully. They’re already required to separate recyclables, with failure to do so correctly resulting in fines. A failure to separate food scraps would also result in a fine, New York sanitation officials said.

“I would caution that this is far from a done deal. There will be pushback from residents and restaurants, as separating food scraps requires a bit more labor,” says Bloom. “I just hope that New Yorkers have the foresight and patience to get through the inevitable bumps to reach that zero-food-to-landfill goal.”

Several smaller cities, including Seattle and San Francisco, already require composting, but New York would be the first major East Coast city to tackle food waste on a large scale. As it has on other issues—like bans on smoking and trans fats—required food-waste separation in Gotham could prompt other cities to follow suit, Bloom says.

“If a city as massive and complex as New York can have mandatory composting, it can happen just about anywhere,” he says.