As I clean up my kitchen after preparing a seven-course tasting, I sadly eye my two big containers of composted food scraps, and contemplate the schlep to the Union Square Greenmarket compost drop-off. I bag up the compost and heave the bags over my shoulder for the umpteenth time, and walk to the subway while thinking longingly of San Francisco.
I haven’t lived in The City by the Bay in a dozen years, but in that time San Francisco has gotten serious about composting. I remember composting in the kitchen at Millennium restaurant, but now every residence, office, and restaurant has curbside compost pick-up, and it’s not just for vegetables. You can compost paper, meat, seafood, and cheese. For home composting, you simply collect food scraps in a small green plastic bin that easily fits in a city kitchen, then dump everything into a matching large green bin that lives outside with the garbage and recycling cans. And then someone comes and picks it up!
I dearly love the Lower East Side Ecology Center, the wonderful non-profit that has operated a compost drop-off at Union Square for decades, and with limited resources operates a composting facility that turns New Yorkers’ kitchen waste into rich, black potting compost. But how I would rejoice if my compost could be picked up from my door in Brooklyn!
San Francisco’s citywide composting program began in 2009, and it’s run by the city’s private garbage company, Recology. The company picks up about 400 tons of compost a day, and brings it to a 22-acre facility north of the city, where it’s turned into compost that’s reportedly being used by wineries in Napa and Sonoma. How cool is that?
Since San Francisco started this program, city officials say that they’ve diverted 80% of waste away from landfills, and are on track to become the country’s first waste-free city. I think that’s pretty incredible. I’m sure there is no shortage of reasons why compost pick-up in New York City would pose a challenge, but the collecting and disposing of New York’s residential trash costs over $400 million a year, and all of it has to be moved out of the city via high-polluting diesel garbage trucks. It seems like reducing our trash output by a means like curbside composting would be a valuable solution.
Until New York City changes its policies and starts to support composing in a significant way, I will continue to compost, but I will be California dreamin’ of those little green bins in San Francisco.