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Should Food Composting Be Mandatory?

June 18, 2013

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New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has been known for his sweeping and often controversial public health initiatives. From his failed attempts to ban large sodas to successfully eliminating trans fats in all NYC restaurants, Bloomberg’s ambitions are far-reaching and according to some, authoritarian.

Bloomberg’s latest cause? Requiring New Yorkers to separate their food scraps for composting. Organic matter makes up 35% of the city’s total waste and amounted to a whopping 1.2 million tons of garbage in 2012, according to Bloomberg spokesman John McCarthy. Under the system modeled after similar programs in San Francisco and Seattle, residents collect food waste like egg shells, orange peels, and coffee grounds in small containers in their homes and then deposit them in larger brown bins on the curb for pickup.

The benefits of recycling food waste are multiple: it cuts down on trash that goes to landfills and enriches soil, prevents pollution, and reduces the need for water, fertilizers, and pesticides. “We bury 1.2 million tons of food waste in landfills every year at a cost of nearly $80 per ton,” said Bloomberg. “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.” The administration will seek to build a plant to process compost into biogas, a renewable gas source that can be used to generate electricity.

Recent composting pilot programs in the city have been unexpectedly successful. In part of Staten Island, 3,500 single-family homes were given brown bins, and 43% already place them on the curb for weekly pickups.

Officials will soon begin to roll out the program across all five boroughs, with a predicted 100 high-rise buildings and 150,000 single-family homes on board by next year. Though participation will initially be voluntarily, it’s predicted that within several years the program will be mandatory and New Yorkers who do not separate their food scraps could be subject to fines.

Want to start your own compost bin for your garden? Follow these simple tips from National Geographic to create nutrient-rich fuel that will nourish your herbs, flowers, fruits, and vegetables.

Do you think food composting should be mandatory?