Why City Composting Should Start in Brooklyn, NOT Staten Island

03/06/2013 1:42 PM |


On February 14, Mayor Bloomberg announced the introduction of a pilot program for composting, aka curbside recycling of food waste and scraps. In Staten Island. Predictably the complaints began immediately, as Staten Islanders and their Republican reps asked City Hall to ‘stop putting garbage and Staten Island in the same sentence’ and declared themselves future victims of excessive enforcement.

Why the Mayor’s office would choose the most conservative, least green part of the city to roll out an essential, but delicate and demanding program like this is beyond me. They claim the high number of single-family homes will make early implementation easier, and I’m sure on a very practical level that’s true: one house, one bin, no need to tackle the logistics of compost-keeping for multi-unit buildings of varying sizes.

But practical considerations pale beside the battles of winning over hearts and minds already hardened to environmental issues, and educating those who seem likely to need a ground-up course in the whys and wherefores of composting itself. The energy the city will have to expend to spread the word, and pick up waste from a relatively sparsely populated borough seems like a poor investment for a probably tiny return.

Far better to tackle logistical issues with a more willing group of residents, living closer together: Park Slope, for example, seems like a better place to start. Already inclined to be green, many Slopers are well versed in composting, with area community gardens and farmers markets accept compostables; I’d also wager there are enough people already trying to deal responsibly with their food waste to start the municipal program with a bit of energy.

And since the administration will have to figure out how to deal with something more complicated than single-family homes pretty fast, why start with the exception, rather than dealing with the rule?

Oh well. You, me and everyone else can take solace that there can be, and there is, a good deal of composting happening in the absence of any city program. I used to have to schlep a carefully camouflaged compost bucket from Williamsburg to Union Square: while it was sometimes fun to watch riders catch a whiff and try to figure out where the smell was coming from (the horror!), I’m happier living in a city that now has many more options. McCarren Park is a lot easier to get to…

GrowNYC collects food scraps at 25 greenmarkets around the city. Numerous community gardens accept compostables, and the wonderful folks at Build It Green NYC are now collecting from commuters at the N/Q train at Broadway in Astoria on Tuesday mornings.

For the truly dedicated, there’s always the DIY approach: vermicomposting, or maintaining your own worm bin at home. It really is easy and, as long as you do it right, clean and odor-free. And of course diverting your compostables means your actual trash is much more pleasant to deal with—no more drippy coffee-ground spills or slimy veg scraps.

To that end there’s an Indoor Composting workshop at the Lower East Side Ecology Center tonight: for the low, low price of $5 you can learn the ins and outs of worm care, and score a worm bin for the discounted price of $44. And just think of the cocktail party conversation you’ll be able to make: tell anyone you have a pound of worms living in your apartment, and I guarantee you’ll have their attention.

4 Comment

  • A pilot program of curbside compost collection DID happen in Brooklyn, specifically Park Slope years ago… mid 90s i believe.

  • I am sick and tired of this holier-than-thou attitude regarding Staten Island coming from people who clearly know little to nothing about the community or the people who live here. Staten Island is an incredibly diverse borough. Two of our city councilmembers are Republican and one, Debbie Rose (an African American woman who has occupied the post since 2009), is a Democrat. We are also home to one of New York State’s few openly gay Assemblymembers, Matt Titone, who has been in office since 2007.

    The notion that Staten Islanders are not interested in green initiatives is complete nonsense. We have an active CSA, busy greenmarkets, numerous community gardens, and a wonderful Heritage Farm at Snug Harbor that supplies produce to our local farm-to-table restaurants. Many of us maintain gardens in our backyards and several of my neighbors raise chickens.
    And guess what? We already compost! What we can’t fit into our backyard compost bins we carry to the greenmarket collection site. We welcome the opportunity to pilot a municipal composting program.

    In fact, Staten Island’s North Shore is probably an ideal community in which to test the program. Yes, we have numerous single-family houses, but we also have a substantial mix of small apartment buildings, large co-op buildings, and waterfront condos. The many different types of dwellings will help the city to understand what it will take for a composting program to be successful city-wide.

    It’s wonderful that you want Brooklyn to take part in piloting the composting initiative, but there’s no reason to disparage your Staten Island neighbors to make your point.

  • The curbside pilot in SI isn’t about Bloomberg or DSNY making an effort to expand composting, it’s a three card monty to ease SIers and elected officials (most who have been kept in the dark by technocrats) to the idea of re-importing “waste”, which DSNY has illegally been doing with material collected from farmers markets in boroughs other than Staten Island for over a year now. While SI deserves green initiatives just as much as any other borough, this top-down, “we know better than you” approach that is a signature trait of many NYC administrations does very little to empower communities to take composting into their own hands.

    Also, the author states that SI is the least “green” borough, which may be valid if measured by the number of residents that are convinced of their own self-righteous accomplishments in achieving a smaller environmental footprint (Brooklyn and Manhattan would probably be contenders for the top spot). If measured by the amount of undeveloped open space vegetated by native plants, capacity to sequester carbon, absorb rainwater, air quality, and noise pollution, SI would come up on top as “greenest”.

  • We are green. As a life long resident of Staten Island I have been composting for 20 years. I have 3 active compost and I collect waste from my neighbors and many of the fancy health food stores in Brooklyn! My father began commuting to work by bicycle in 1978, a tradition I have upheld since 1998. Generalizations and stereotypes don’t help anyone.
    So please don’t resort to Staten Island bashing to make a point. It’s unbecoming at best and a stale leftover of pre-Sandy New York.