In a friend’s kitchen recently, watching him make dinner, I was surprised as he kept tossing food scraps into the trash. “You guys don’t compost?!” I asked, because it’s become second-nature to me. He didn’t—but not because he didn’t want to! Because the program under which most Bay Ridgers received brown, clicking-closed bins from the department of Sanitation last March extended only as far north as 74th Street.
But that’s about to change, Paula Katinas reported last week in the Brooklyn Eagle. The rest of the neighborhood (and then some!)—from 62nd Street to 74th Street, Shore Road to Seventh Avenue—will soon become a part of the organic recycling program. Delivery of bins to residences in this area with fewer than 10 units should begin June 8.
I’ve gotten the impression not everyone is thrilled with this program; in comments sections, people often express disgust or frustration, and only a few homes on my street put the bins out for collection every week. And the program operates a little differently from traditional composting, which makes it even more confusing. So here are the basic facts and a few best practices to make the whole thing a little less scary—and a whole lot easier.
What gets composted?
Pretty much all food, even meat and oily stuff. For starters, this includes your scraps: onion skins, avocado rinds, banana peels, peach pits, pistachio shells, asparagus ends, tomato stems, apple cores, fish bones, egg shells, etc. Also, I hate throwing away food, but if your bread is moldy, or some leftovers have gone rotten, toss ‘em in. If you made 12 pieces of tofu and one is left, and no one’s gonna eat it, don’t put it in the trash—compost it! But it’s more than that: it’s coffee grinds and paper coffee filters, paper plates, napkins and paper towels, even paper bags. That’s not to forget yard scraps, either, if you’re lucky enough to be responsible for a little patch of green: leaves, grass, etc. If you think about it, that’s a lot of what goes in your trash! If you do it right, between this and recycling, the actual amount of waste you send to a landfill should soon significantly decrease.
How does it work, practically?
The department of sanitation will give you two bins: a big brown one to keep outside, and a little tan one to put inside. I’m lucky to have a little extra counter space, so the small one sits next to the sink, behind the coffee pot. It’s just steps away from the cutting board, which makes disposal simple, but it also has a handle, so it’s easily moved around. (A word of warning: these little bins don’t seem built to last. After a little more than a year of use, the lid on mine no longer seems plumb with the edge of the container, meaning when the weather gets warmer there’s potential for a fly problem. You may eventually have to get a different kind of container with a different kind of lid. But that’s not going to be a problem at first, so don’t stress about it now!)
When the small container is full, you dump it into the big one outside, which snaps shut tightly, meaning not only that rats can’t get in, but they won’t really be drawn to it, either. Ditto bugs, etc. On your usual recycling day, it goes down to the curb with the rest of your trash. They’re oddly built, with little pockets at the bottom where foodstuffs can get stuck; I find it helpful sometimes to cut open a paper bag to put on the bottom, or a paper towel or two (though that’s not the most efficient use of paper towels, I know). You can buy compostable bags to use, but to me that’s an extra and unnecessary expense. Whatever you do, though, don’t use plastic: no ordinary trash bags, plastic bags, etc. Everything here has to be biodegradable.
What are the benefits?
Instead of creating larger landfills, you create soil fertilizer! But if hippie-dippy shit won’t move you, there’s a practical cost benefit, as well. According to a 2013 Times article:
The city spent $336 million last year disposing of residential trash, exporting most of it to landfills in Ohio, Pennsylvania and South Carolina.
Food waste and other organic materials account for almost a third of all residential trash, and the city could save about $100 million a year by diverting it from landfills…“We bury 1.2 million tons of food waste in landfills every year at a cost of nearly $80 per ton,” [then-Mayor Bloomberg] said. “That waste can be used as fertilizer or converted to energy at a much lower price. That’s good for the environment and for taxpayers.”
It may take a brief period of getting used to, but one you’ve got the hang of it, it’s the simplest thing—and everybody wins, even you.
Follow Hey Ridge on Twitter @heyridgebk