In a last-push effort before his term ends at the end of the year, New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg is attempting to make the city just one more bit sustainable – by introducing food waste recycling and composting programs that could eventually become mandatory for New Yorkers.
According to the New York Times, “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”. Right now, New Yorkers’ efforts at recycling are mediocre, with only around 15% of its total residential waste being diverted away from landfills.
Disposing of food waste and organic matter in landfills is not only costly, however, it also contributes to global warming by emitting methane as it rots – the EPA estimates that around 20% of human related methane in the United States is generated on landfills, as only 4% of food waste is being composted or recycled. And – what astonished me – food waste contributes to the greatest part of total municipal solid waste! To give you an idea about the size of the problem, in 2011 alone 36 million tons of food waste was generated.
Thus, tackling food waste disposal is a worthy goal, especially in a mega city such as New York. According to Bloomberg’s proposal, the city will hire a composting plant that will be able to handle 100,000 tons of food scraps a year – around 10% of the total waste. The initial period will be a voluntary program first rolled out to 150,000 single-family homes, 100 high-rise buildings and more than 600 schools, covering around 5% of the city’s households.
In a second step, the city is seeking proposals for a company to build a plant in the New York area that would transform food scraps into biogas – thus covering an expansion of the program and simultaneously generating sustainable electricity. Officials predict that food scrap recycling might become mandatory in 2015 or 2016, when non-compliance would be fined just as the failure to recycle paper, metal and glass now.
According to mayor Bloomberg, the proposal is both economical and ecological:
“We bury 1.2 million tons of food waste in landfills every year at a cost of nearly $80 per ton. 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.”
Both Democratic party frontrunners for the position of NYC mayor, Mr. de Blasio and Ms. Quinn, said they were on board with the plans and would intend to continue the effort in case they were elected. Let’s get the recycling going!
P.S. Another proposal of Bloomberg, the big-gulp-soda ban, is having more trouble – it’s currently stuck in the appeals court and the Huffington Post reports that “judges were more sympathetic to lawyers from the American Beverage Association than to those from the Department of Health”. This despite the fact that more evidence emerged in a recent study on obesity and nutrition behavior that “the soda ban would not hit the poor people, but rather overweight children and adults”. I will keep you updated on any decision!