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The World’s Composting Program: Adams launches universal curbside organics pickup for Queens

Adams compost
Mayor Eric Adams holds up a bag of compost, with DSNY Commissioner Jessica Tisch at the Unisphere in Queens on Aug. 8.
Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office

Roll out the brown bins, Queens!

The city will launch curbside organics collection for all residents of the World’s Borough starting this fall, Mayor Eric Adams announced Monday.

Starting on Oct. 3, Department of Sanitation trucks will pick up food scraps, yard waste, and food-soiled paper products once a week in the city’s largest borough.

Mayor Adams hopes the scheme will get more of a buy-in than the limited opt-in composting operations by his predecessors.

“This is a no-frill way of just getting it done without the bureaucracy and the difficulties of signing up for a program,” Hizzoner said during a press conference at the Unisphere in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park on Aug. 8.

Adams billed it as the largest composting program in the nation, covering Queens’s 2.4 million residents. Officials chose the borough due to its diverse communities and housing stock, from suburban neighborhoods with yards in the east to dense apartment buildings in the west. 

Smaller cities out west like San Francisco and Seattle have successfully diverted compostables from their waste stream for years, but the Big Apple has struggled to adopt a working program.

Some 24 million pounds of trash hit the curb daily in the Five Boroughs, about one third of which, or 8 million pounds, are organics.

When DSNY sends the scraps to the landfill mixed in with other garbage, they decompose and emit methane, a highly-potent greenhouse gas.

Instead, the city wants to convert the scraps into compost that can become nutritious soil in parks, and capture the harmful emissions to sell as renewable energy.

Adams scrapped the expansion of the DSNY’s previous voluntary collection of the Mayor Bill de Blasio era, where residents in seven city districts could sign up for a weekly collection.

De Blasio cut the effort entirely during the pandemic before relaunching it in a scaled-back form last year. Less than 10% of eligible buildings took part, which Adams slammed as “broken” and just “symbolic” after slashing its budget earlier this year.

That old initiative continues in the eligible neighborhoods, and in two months everyone who lives in Queens will be able to benefit from the weekly collection without having to sign up.

“We do hope and expect that this program will be more effective than any program previously rolled out, i.e. one that people actually use, because it’s being offered as a stress-free new service to all Queens residents,” said DSNY Commissioner Jessica Tisch.

“For organics to work, it needs to penetrate beyond the true believers, and for that to happen it needs to be simple to use,” Tisch added.

Residents can deposit their separated food waste and food-stained paper products like paper plates and napkins in the city’s brown bins or any trash can with a lid to keep out the rats and a DSNY decal.

Those who need a free brown bin or the decal can order one from DSNY.

New York’s Strongest will distribute the containers to all buildings in Queens with 10 or more units.

Leaf and yard waste, which Sanitation already collects in November and December, will also be picked up on the same day as the food waste.

The new service will only be seasonal for now, pausing for the winter in late December before restarting in March, unlike the city’s previous program which runs year-round.

The interruption is because there is usually little yard waste during the colder months, and that material makes up the bulk of organics collections in the early phases of such programs, according to city officials.

The city will install 250 more so-called “smart bins,” sealed sidewalk organics drop-off containers that can be unlocked with a smartphone app. 

Those launched in Astoria, Queens, and Downtown Manhattan late last year, and DSNY will set up the new ones in Manhattan north of 125th Street, the South Bronx, the North Shore of Staten Island, and central Brooklyn.

To order a free compost bin, visit nyc.gov/curbsidecomposting until Oct. 1. DSNY decals are available at nyc.gov/CompostingBinDecal.

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