BY TEQUILA MINSKY
Prior to the COVID-19 Pause that stopped daily routines, hundreds of local denizens embraced separating their plant-based kitchen scraps to become compost. Ecology-minded New Yorkers stored their peelings in the fridge or freezer, dropping them off at a collection point for composting.
Union Square and Washington Market are two of the 50+ Greenmarkets that had accepted organic materials for compost and in the Village, Chelsea, East Village, and Lower East Side, bins consigned on a weekly schedule provided seven more convenient drop-off sites, a program of the Lower East Side (LES) Ecology Center. On Tuesday mornings, this writer would bring eggshells, coffee grounds, rinds and peelings to a collection bin on 6th Ave. and Spring Street; COVID-19 halted all this activity.
With no place to take their fruit and veggie scraps, stale bread and dried-up flowers and dead plants, many who so diligently brought these for composting, with much distress threw them away. For others, a good habit is hard to break as they continued to separate and —so it won’t smell, freeze—store their organic refuse.
On July 19, the LES Ecology Center launched a Sundays community drop-off site with collection bins outside its E. 7th St. Community Garden between Aves B and C, hours 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
On that first day of collection, E. 9th Street residents, musicians Ellen Mandel and Michael Lydon brought a variety of plastic bags and containers holding one week’s worth of kitchen peelings for composting.
“For years I’ve dropped off here,” says Mandel, who with Lydon eats mostly non-meat meals at home, thus generating a lot of compost-ready materials.
Throughout the afternoon a steady stream of East Village residents stopped to make their organic deposit.
Overseeing the drop-offs at the reopening of this site, LES Ecology Center staff member Kyleen Sanchez remarked, “People are really excited to be here. They’ve been saving scraps and were really sad to throw them away.“
Researching for a compost drop-off site and finally finding the opening of the E. 7th St. site for compost collection brought Suzanna Bredenberg from Hell’s Kitchen to the East Village on Sunday, July 26.
“This is the first time I’ve been on a subway,” she announced, having taken the R train and walked blocks east to get to the community garden. It was time to empty the freezer. Previously she would drop-off compost materials at Pier 84 on 44th St.
Similarly, one Stuyvesant Town resident traveled by Citibike with her organics. “I was disappointed when in May, they discontinued our complex’s Brown Bin recycling program,” she said. (In early May, Department of Sanitation suspended its Brown Bin program, which collected kitchen scraps deposited in bins at homes and some large apartment complexes.)
Additionally, the LES Ecology Center’s East River Park Compost Yard, located on the East River along the service road south of the amphitheater, began accepting organic materials on July 13.
Recently, City Council restored $2.86 million for community composting programs, however, this amount falls short of restoring all programs.
Ten people a day would stop at Union Square Greenmarket’s info table clamoring to find out when compost drop-off would begin. Happily, composting through GrowNYC’s Union Square Greenmarket will resume this Saturday, August 1.
The LES Ecology Center is rolling out a phased reopening of food scrap drop-off sites as it works to bring back the breadth of its program. It also continues its presence at Union Square Greenmarket, selling compost, potting soil and compost equipment.