A New Yorker Responds: Bloomberg's Plan for Mandatory Composting

San Francisco compost bin. Photo license: Creative Commons. By Amanda Krupman, Communications Coordinator, Colin Powell School

I want to say that I am typical New Yorker—a typical non-native, not-yet-forty, not-ever-making-a six-figure-salary New Yorker.

I live in one of the outer boroughs, don’t own a car, and rent an apartment in a crumbling four-story walk-up. A kind, older Korean woman living across the street is paid to handle our trash and recycling and occasionally (bi-yearly?) sweep the hallways and stairs. She does this despite the fact that, she told me last week, the building’s owner hasn’t paid her since December. The owner is a typical New York City landlord, but I have lived in the city long enough to grade on a curve:  he is an absent, but not abusive, figure. I give him a C-minus.

We are all typical New Yorkers: so it only took about three-and-a-half seconds into reading about Bloomberg’s push for a comprehensive composting program for my thoughts to transition from those apropos to Responsible Earth Citizen to those of Paranoid Urban Survivalist.

How would this go down in Brooklyn? In August? In my kitchenette so small my cat and I have separate feeding schedules?


Compost bins, everywhere,  just around the corner!

Fear crept in.

A visceral, scuttling fear, not unlike the sort that came when the roommate two-weeks-in from New Mexico brought home that amazing upholstered chair he couldn’t imagine why anyone would leave on the curb, and did I know that it was sitting right by an unstained, pillowtop mattress that was—he knew because he’d tested it—still, totally, perfectly firm?

Guilt followed.

Just last month I had documented the wonderful work of our faculty and student fellows with their community partner at the Lower East Side Ecology Center. That a city of New York’s size intends on establishing a serious, progressive city-wide program to handling waste is something to celebrate. The New York Times article cites benefits beyond the environmental impact: the city will save about a third of the money it spends disposing residential trash (over $300 million last year) by diverting the organic material to composting plants. Furthermore, the city would pursue plans to build a plant to convert the waste matter into a renewable energy source used to generate electricity for the New York region.

These are thrilling policy developments in urban sustainability. I’m so down.

But at once I recall Apartment 6F, a sloping one-bedroom I rented for a year in a section of Flatbush. It was the apartment at the end of the hall, situated right next to the room with the trash chute, which my neighbors ignored, preferring to pile their trash bags next to and underneath it— bags that, piled six-feet-high, sat for a week long, slowly leaking out juices that ran in vile rivulets down to my doormat. Maybe the trash juice would have been better contained in compost bins. But would anyone have actually used them if putting trash down the chute was too bothersome? And if they did, would they have been emptied as often as they should?

I recall balmy evening strolls before trash day, when soldier strength can’t protect against a pervasive, thuggish stench that hits the nose with an uppercut before socking you in the gut.

Photo license: Creative Commons.

And I recall the only time I’d encountered a rat outside of a subway station, a harrowing tale I’ll tell you all over a beer you buy for me.

Yes, I know: I’m part of the problem. This is progress and I really do want to reconcile my rational, green-policy-lovin’ intellect with my self-protective and wary New Yorker emotions. But New York is a beast, different from cities like San Francisco and Seattle, both of which have instituted some form of mandated food recycling. We have unique challenges in our densely packed neighborhoods. And I have unique challenges in my densely packed studio apartment, namely: if the litter box is in the bathroom, and the trash can under the sink, where under heaven am I going to put the compost bin? And the smell…

Guess now’s the time to buy stock in Glade. Unless...