Hell’s Kitchen will finally get curbside composting — but there will be a significant wait before it arrives. Mayor Eric Adams said Thursday in his State of the City that his administration is dramatically expanding composting, ending years of previous delays and cancelations to bring compost collections to all five boroughs, with Manhattan the last to be covered in October next year.
Advocates have long called for Adams to put composting back on track, after he canceled ambitious expansion plans shortly after being sworn in last year. The many false starts prompted an angry local backlash, including from State Senator Brad Hoylman-Sigal, who introduced legislation in Albany re-proposing citywide composting.
On Thursday, Adams said the five borough expansion of curbside composting will roll out between March this year and October 2024, with Manhattan scheduled as the last borough to be added on October 7, 2024. Brown composting bins will be distributed to all New York City buildings for voluntary usage, emptied by the Sanitation Department and taken to composting facilities in Brooklyn, Staten Island, New Jersey and Massachusetts for processing. Some food waste will be made into biogas.
Adams framed the advent of citywide compost collection as bad news for his perennial enemy, rats. Speaking at Thursday’s State of the City address in Flushing, Queens, he said: “Most people don’t know this about me, but I hate rats. And pretty soon, those rats will be hating me. Hiring our new Rat Czar will be just the beginning of a new era in delivering the best in public services and public spaces. We’re going to ‘Get Stuff Cleaner’ by launching the country’s largest curbside composting program. By the end of 2024, all 8.5 million New Yorkers will finally have the rat-defying solution they’ve been waiting for for two decades.”
Composting should reduce rodent opportunity to feed on trash by keeping food waste in separate, rat-proof bins. Citing statistics from the voluntary Queens composting program, Mayor Adams said that the $22.5 million dollar citywide initiative would also finally put a dent in the city’s goal of zero waste sent to landfills by 2030. The stepped-up program will also need more sanitation trucks, at a cost of $45 million (NY Times). It is unclear if the vehicles will be electric.
“In just three months, a pilot composting program right here in Queens kept nearly 13 million pounds of kitchen and yard waste out of landfills. That’s more than the weight of 300 city buses,” said Adams. “Imagine how much we will accomplish when every family in the city is participating.” He did not address his own cancelation of the previous expansion program.
Pilots had been spreading through the city before the pandemic, but collections were halted by then-mayor Bill de Blasio in March 2020, and returned in some areas in 2021. In February of last year, Adams canceled all expansion of the curbside program to save money, calling it “broken.” But in August 2022, after criticism for a move which was cited as only having saved (at best) $23.5 million, he announced voluntary curbside composting for every household in Queens, starting the biggest single composting program in the nation. The food scrap collection program in Queens is currently on a winter hiatus because there is “not enough yard waste” to collect.
Adams now faces calls to hurry up the program. “This will be a win for the environment, and cleaner streets—and a big loss for rats,” said Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine in a statement on Twitter, adding that he planned to advocate for an earlier Manhattan installation date. “I have been fighting for months, alongside Manhattan City Council members, for composting expansion in our borough. It’s great news that we are now moving in the right direction.”
The city will need to keep moving rapidly in the right direction should it stand a chance of meeting the goal set by de Blasio in 2016 of sending zero waste to landfill by 2030. Recycling is also badly off track — according to the New York Times and statistics from the Citizens Budget Commission, recyclables are currently only diverted from landfill 17 percent of the time in NYC. Seattle, in contrast, diverts 63 percent of its recyclables.
As Manhattanites await the arrival of curbside composting, local advocate Chana Widawski, lead composter and volunteer at the popular Mathews-Palmer Playground bins, said they would continue to provide composting services for sustainably-minded West Siders. “Seeing that Manhattan is last on the timeline, starting only in late 2024, we are happy to have our Hell’s Kitchen Commons pick-up by the LES Ecology Center in Mathews-Palmer Playground and hope to continue increasing participation by our neighbors,” she told W42ST.
Widawski said a citywide buy-in was critical to the program’s future success, adding: “I’m thrilled to see a citywide investment made in this critical process — though making it mandatory, with an investment in education and outreach is what it will take for it to be truly impactful and cost-effective.”
She is one of many advocates to argue that the only way to move the needle on the city’s landfill goals was to make the five borough composting program mandatory, with fines levied on people who put food in the general waste, a move that Adams and his administration did not propose at Thursday’s announcement. Sanitation Commissioner Jessica Tisch said she was not yet backing mandatory composting, telling the Times: “This program is going to represent the first time that many New Yorkers have ever had access to curbside composting. Let them get used to it.”