Space, and Rats, and Smells, Oh My

timessquare

Mayor Bloomberg and Deputy Commissioner Ron Gonen are hoping to convince reluctant New Yorkers that the environmental benefits of composting outweigh its challenges in an urban setting.

Mayor Bloomberg is quickly turning up the heat before he leaves by dumping  a composting plan on the city.  He hopes his plan, which includes dropping off food waste cans in Times Square and recommending that 150,000 households and 600 schools embrace his voluntary food waste recycling program, can help to divert 100,000 tons of food waste hauled to landfill each year.  Hoping this initiative will take a big bite out of our landfills is a daunting program to leave to the city’s next mayor, but it is achievable.

Complexity, confusion and challenges, however, surround this program as New Yorkers as a whole are less forgiving when programs fail.   The challenges associated with the pipe dream that composting is an easy task are plentiful.  Space, rats, costs, and smells will be the most challenging hurdles to overcome.

In New York kitchens as well as residences, space may be the biggest challenge.

The Gramercy Tavern has been composting since 2007, they fill a bin each day with about 30 pounds of vegetable and meat scraps, and then store it out of the way before service in their “garbage room”.  A space that makes composting viable.

Other professional kitchens that have tried composting have run into setbacks.  Blue Hill New York located in Greenwich Village hasn’t been able to find a satisfying, lasting solution because there is nowhere to store the scraps.  A meal delivery service in Brooklyn was so committed to composting that the owner would load up the food waste every day and shuttle it herself back to the bins in her own backyard.  Dirt Candy, a small vegetarian restaurant was willing but the restaurant was too tiny to house a collection bin.

But storage isn’t the only concern.  Decomposing food in a public area will attract rats.  The stationary food waste will be a feedstock for the rat population of NYC.  Clearly marked bins have been placed in Times Square a heavily populated area for residents and tourists alike.  But they are not the only ones visiting Times Square.  The rats are everywhere.  In many areas the rats are bigger than puppies, offering them a meal in the way of consolidated food waste will make Times Square a desirable smorgasbord.

Frequent food waste only pickups from a reliable company will also prove to be a challenge.  If the waste is not picked up smells will waft through the city air.  Hot summer months and idle food waste don’t mix.

The cost to compost will also be on the rise.  Since most commercial businesses pay by the pound for waste removal, there is no cost savings to be had by the business, and in some areas, compost pickup costs will go up because of the extra process and the remote facilities the material is taken to.

Education will be another challenge.  A sign on a trash bin is not the answer.  New Yorkers will have more questions and historically are too busy to read signs.  Contamination will also be a hard hurdle to overcome because once the bin is contaminated with glass or plastic the whole load has to go to the landfill.

Do New Yorkers care about the environment enough to sacrifice space, co-exist with rats, tolerate the smells, pay more to dispose of their waste and stop to read the signs?

Let’s face it composting is a complex task. 

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