Tuesday, July 13, 2010

What a (Wet) Waste!

The Times Herald-Record reported (via Liz Benjamin) over the weekend that New York lags behind the rest of the state in recycling: "New Yorkers still use the trash can more often than the recycling bin. That's according to a report that shows the Empire State lags far behind the national rate of recycling, while also falling short of its own goals. On average, the United States recycles about 33 percent of its municipal solid waste, not including construction and demolition debris. New York recycles 20 percent."

And the culprit is food waste: "The state's below-average performance can be attributed to many factors. Poor enforcement of recycling laws, the disposal of food waste and old throw-it-away habits all contribute." And while the Hudson Valley is doing a bit better, it is our guess that NYC is dragging down the state's average.

But when the vexing problem of food waste is raised, we always get this knee jerk response: "The DEC's plan to expand recycling hinges on four ideas. Here's a look at each:


Food scraps, paper, leaves and other organic material make up as much as 30 percent of our trash. All of it could be composted — or naturally broken down — into nutrient-rich material that's used for planting or mulch. A total of 17 facilities in Orange, Sullivan and Ulster already compost some organics, mostly yard waste. Delaware County's compost facility is the only large-scale depot in New York that accepts residential organics. Therein lies the problem. New York doesn't have a well-organized collection network or facilities to process compostables. The report suggests the state should invest in building regional collection centers for composting."

And if ain't well organized in Sullivan County, "Composting has a huge future," said Bill Cutler, recycling coordinator in Sullivan County, "but if you don't have the infrastructure to handle it, you're lost."- imagine the difficulties in the Bronx. There is simply no way to develop a cost effective composting methodology for the city-that is why we have been harping on the use of food waste disposers-as a boon to local food stores and restaurants, as well as to those neighborhoods overburdened by commercial waste transfer stations.

Until now, however, the hidebound bureaucracy over at the DEP has stood in the way of innovation-something we hope that new deputy mayor Goldsmith will remedy. Goldsmith, while himself mayor of Indianapolis, was a real innovator at inventing new ways for government to approach vexing public policy problems. Food waste should be right up his alley.