Diverting organic waste can save the city money and benefit its many parks & gardens. WeRadiate founder Sashti Balasundaram breaks down how.
The cost of exporting waste in New York is staggering. The 2019 Department of Sanitation (DSNY) budget is approximately $1.7 BILLION DOLLARS.1 This includes $498 MILLION for waste export ($411 Million) and waste disposal costs ($87 Million), equating to $1.3Million for the export and disposal of our waste every day. $1.3 MILLION per day paid to private waste haulers to send “trash” to landfills and incinerators as far as Ohio, Virginia, and other states.2
So we imagine this… what if NYC could divert its food scraps and organics locally – saving money on costly hauling while also providing benefit to our parks, farms, and gardens? We researched DSNY and NYC Council data to reveal interesting details relating to our trash, recycling, and organics systems. In Mayor De Blasio’s term, 21% of all NYC’s residential waste is food related.3 And data from DSNY display that on a single day – the wonderful DSNY crew – collect 12,000 tons of refuse and 2,000 tons of recyclables.4, 5
Here’s the math:
- If 12,000 tons of refuse is collected each day and 21% of this is food waste… well… this is ~2,500 tons of food waste collected daily which ends up in landfill or incineration. Our next step was figuring out how much space and land is available in NYC to divert these materials locally for compost centers such as community gardens. We accessed the database of 596acres and calculated the amount of public community gardens (approximately 650 gardens across the five boroughs) and their square footage.
We made two inferences:
- Inference A: If each garden dedicates less than 2% of its space for composting activities … then 8,293 compost bin (3ft x 3ft x 3ft) systems can be created;
- Inference B: Each compost bin system can divert 10,000 lbs of food scraps annually (based on compost data of the 462 Halsey St. Community Garden, Brooklyn)
With these two realistic inferences, nearly 113 tons of food scraps can be diverted into community compost systems across NYC each day. The final material, compost – a healthy soil amendment, can be spread across our parks, gardens, and street trees in place of fertilizers. This total tonnage of food scraps represents 1% of NYC’s residential solid waste stream annually. In financial terms, this equates to $3.8Million of waste export and disposal fees, which can be reallocated back into our community in various manners such as local employment opportunity, education, and community programming.
How can we turn these insights into action?
Attend our upcoming class, Intro to Vermicomposting: A ‘WORMshop’ for New Yorkers at AgTech X on May 15th to understand the ease of composting in NYC in your homes, offices and schools. I’ll describe the steps for maintaining and taking care of a healthy worm bin while outlining the importance of food scraps recycling and composting within our urban environment. We’ll even build a demo worm bin for the AgTech X space that you can check in on periodically!
Please connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram: @WeRadiateNY.
- Page 1: DSNY Fiscal 2014 Expense Budget; Waste Export costs
Page 3: Waste Disposal – General and Landfill closure costshttps://council.nyc.gov/budget/wp-content/uploads/sites/54/2018/03/FY19-Department-of-Sanitation.pdf
- Paragraph #1 – In reality, there is no “away.”https://www.grownyc.org/recycling/facts
- Page 11: 34% Organics suitable for composting (21% NYC residential waste is food scraps)https://dsny.cityofnewyork.us/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/2017-Waste-Characterization-Study.pdf
- Amount of recyclables collected daily https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/dsny/docs/about_dsny-collections-FYTD.pdf
- Amount of trash collected dailyhttps://www.metro.us/news/local-news/new-york/how-much-garbage-does-new-york-city-produce-daily-tons