While some of New York’s waste gets infamously shipped off to unlucky out-of-state recipients, Hudson River Park (HRPK) has developed a new, interactive community compost tracker to measure localized sustainability efforts in Hell’s Kitchen and the West Side.
HRPK’s community compost program began in 2015, as an initiative to reduce carbon emissions from waste shipments and reroute NYC organic compost from landfills. Locally collected compost spread across the four miles of riverfront park to enrich flower beds and gardens, additionally protecting local flora from disease. Tina Walsh, Director of Education and Outreach for Hudson River Park, explained: “We realized that we were actually taking all of our horticulture waste, putting it on trash containers and then shipping them out. Of course, when we ship containers of trash, we’re using carbon dioxide or we’re releasing excess carbon dioxide into the environment.”
As the program progressed, it became clear that HRPK had both the need and capacity to expand operations. “We really started this as a way to just process our horticulture waste inside and found that practically, we needed more greens compost, a mixture of browns and greens. So we started collecting food scraps from the community about three years ago, and now to date we have 10 drop off locations spaced throughout Hudson River Park: Pier 97, Pier 84, right here at the compost center at W32nd Street and then equally spaced out, all the way down to Pier 25. Pier 84 is actually one of our top locations in terms of poundage of food scraps from the community that’s contributed,” said Walsh.
In its most recent detailed annual report, HRPK tallied 386,000 pounds of composted organic waste in 2020 alone — a combination of 36,000 lbs of community food scraps and 350,000 lbs of horticultural waste. Totals would likely have been even higher had it not been for a pause in collection from March-September of 2020 due to COVID-19 precautions, though compost levels for the park still reached 90% of 2019’s total compost levels. And in 2021, HRPK diverted even more waste from landfills — over 490,000 pounds of organic waste in a combination of 350,000 pounds of horticultural waste and 140,000 pounds of composted food scraps.
Now, the HRPK’s live tracker updates neighborhood and West Side lifetime collection totals by the hour, as well as daily, monthly, and yearly collection stats by location. In January 2022, HRPK collected 12.2k lbs of compost. Hell’s Kitchen locations at W32nd Street, Pier 84 at W44th Street, and Pier 96 at W55th Street collected yearly 2021 totals of 7.4k lbs, 18.4k lbs, and 19.2k lbs of compost and monthly totals of 334 lbs, 772 lbs, and 988 lbs.
“You can see over the course of the past five years, how the program has grown — it’s really a program people have come to rely on, especially during COVID. DSNY suspended its brown bin program and has not resumed it in most neighborhoods, so we actually had a huge increase in the number of community stops in the past year. We’re up to nearly 500,000 pounds of organic waste annually that we’re processing, which is an incredible number,” said Walsh.
Collections have been so successful that the HRPK is in the process of installing a second composting machine “that we have secured funding for, and is slowly floating its way over here from India where it was assembled. It’s a six-month process for it to get here on a barge, but eventually we’ll have two machines here to process all that we have,” Walsh said.
HRPK is also focused on continued community outreach programs, including public tours of the park that break down the composting process and the development of their habitat garden, an entirely native planted area — called the Habitat Garden north of Pier 66 — where the park alliance holds classes and compost demonstrations.
Walsh said: “Native plantings have become more of the norm in parks over the past 20 years, but it was a little more of a novel garden space when the park was first constructed. This is a space that we bring classes into — it has a pathway where students can really run around exploring here, and we also have some demonstration compost pins. We’ll teach about native plants, pollinators, the history of New York City, and the changing shoreline.”
In the densely packed urban gridlock that is New York, Walsh notes that such a bounty of space is a rare opportunity for city kids to learn about the ecosystem in a dedicated green space. “It’s kind of special. We just let kids run around in here because it is a closed and safe space. We say, ‘okay, find 10 native plants’, and then they can explore and really discover this pathway which is great. There’s not a lot of spaces like that in New York City.”
For those looking to become more involved in HRPK’s composting program, there are opportunities to work side-by-side with the horticulture team as a Compost Volunteer, or by supporting the HRPK’s education and environmental initiatives as a Sustainability Sponsor. And if you’d like to contribute to the neighborhood’s compost tracker, you can drop off at any of the neighborhood’s centers at W32nd, Pier 84, and Pier 96, open every day from 7am to 7pm.