dropping off compost at a New York greenmarket

In visiting New York City this winter break, we learned about some strides the city (pardon me – that’s The City to some of you) is taking towards reducing those huge piles of trash that line the sidewalks twice a week.

In many ways, New York seems green because of its population density. On the Upper East Side where we were staying, the sidewalks were more crowded than the roads, and according to the city government, greenhouse gas emissions per capita are lower here than in any other major US city, thanks to low land use and transit-oriented development. However, a global team of researchers recently compared metropolitan New York, including parts of CT and northern NJ, with 26 other megacity regions around the world and found it to be the most wasteful in terms of water use, energy use, and solid waste.

Annual waste per megacity, by Christopher A. Kennedy et al. PNAS 2015;112:5985-5990

Annual waste for New York and 26 other megacities, by Christopher A. Kennedy et al. PNAS 2015;112:5985-5990

The stats on New York’s trash are especially striking.

Metropolitan New York produces 33 megatons of waste a year, almost three times as much as the 2nd most wasteful city. Just the city proper throws out 12,000 tons per day, recycling only 17%.

As part of the Zero Waste initiative of the city, New Yorkers now have a chance to compost their food waste (and yard waste, if any) through a municipal collection program that operates primarily at farmer’s markets, or greenmarkets as they’re called there.

On New Year’s Day, I took a brisk jog to a greenmarket on the Upper East Side with a bag of our veggie peels, coffee grounds, and apple cores for the municipal compost.

A New York resident empties a bag of food scraps into the compost bin at a greenmarket

It was a lovely morning for a walk, and I stumbled upon the Hungarian House on my way! At the greenmarket, there was a friendly city worker talking to folks at a green tent. There was one large bin where a slow but steady stream of locals were emptying their plastic bags of food scraps into a green compost bin. GrowNYC expected to fill up a row of about 10 compost bins that day! That is the beauty of the dense cityscape. It spews huge streams of waste, but since it’s so concentrated, large amounts can be easily diverted if residents are willing to separate the waste streams.

Our hostess in the city tried it once and got such a gruff response from a grumpy worker that she never returned. I’ll stay tuned to see if my experience opens up the pathway again, especially since she liked the fresh and dried apples I bought at this greenmarket in the dead of winter. Do you live in NYC and are you willing to take a little walk and cart your compost? If you try it, let me know how it goes, and if you’re really enthused, look into the city’s pilot program for building-based compost collection, too!

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