New York City has a food waste problem. But luckily, one of the best solutions is already within reach: composting! Composting is an easy, sustainable way to dispose of organic material, and with a growing network of composting services available, it’s more accessible than ever for New Yorkers.

In honor of curbside composting coming to Brooklyn this month, we’re doing a two-part series on food waste reduction in NYC. Follow along to learn more about how you can do your part! Read Part 1: How to Reduce Food Waste in NYC here.

What is composting?

Composting is the process of recycling organic waste into an enriched fertilizer for soil. Compost offers a host of benefits, including:

  • Diverts organic waste from landfills and incinerators, reducing GHG emissions
  • Prevents soil degradation and improves soil health
  • Promotes healthy plant growth and biodiversity
  • Aids in stormwater management
  • Enhances carbon sequestration

Disposing of food waste and other organic material in the garbage means it’ll eventually end up in a landfill, where it’ll decompose and produce methane. Methane is a very potent greenhouse gas that’s responsible for retaining heat in the atmosphere and warming the planet. 

Composting is a sustainable way of diverting food waste from landfills that supports future plant growth and the circular economy.

Importance of Composting in NYC

Food waste is a major problem in New York City. It’s responsible for 20% of the city’s greenhouse gas emissions (placing it third behind buildings and transportation), and it’s a major factor in the city’s growing rat population.

Our city produces a lot of waste, but the majority of it is divertable materials like organics, recyclables, e-waste and harmful household products. As of 2017, around 34% was organic material suitable for composting, meaning there’s a major opportunity for landfill diversion.

Composition of NYC's residential waste
A major portion of NYC’s residential waste is made up of organic materials, meaning there’s a big opportunity for landfill diversion. Credit

Composting is a simple, yet very important way to help our city reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, improve public health, and support green spaces.

Is composting mandatory in NYC?

Composting food and yard waste in Queens and Brooklyn is mandatory. Queens was the first borough to receive the NYC Department of Sanitation’s curbside composting service in the fall of 2022. Brooklyn has followed suit this fall, becoming the second borough to get curbside as of October 2023.

In June 2023, the city council passed the Zero Waste Act, making composting mandatory for all NYC residents beginning in October 2024 – when Manhattan will become the last of the boroughs to get curbside composting. 

If you live in Manhattan, Staten Island, or the Bronx, here’s when you can expect curbside composting:

  • Staten Island: March 2024
  • The Bronx: March 2024
  • Manhattan: October 2024

Mandatory composting requires New Yorkers to separate yard waste, food scraps, and food-soiled paper from their garbage and dispose of it in compost bins. Compost should be set out on the curb just like trash and recycling, and DSNY will pick it up on your recycling day. Fines for non-compliance will not begin until around six months after the program goes into effect, but you can expect enforcement to be similar to recycling.

What is the NYC Compost Project?

The NYC Compost Project is a citywide composting education and outreach program founded in 1993 by the Sanitation Department. It works with several nonprofit organizations and botanical gardens to provide composting resources and workshops to residents, businesses and institutions. It offers the Master Composter Certificate Course with the goal of building a network of advanced composters who can help support DSNY’s community composting initiatives. 

Sanitation department's graphic showing what can and cannot be composted
DSNY’s curbside composting and smart bin services accept the items above. Drop-off sites, however, may restrict certain items like meat and dairy.

What can be composted in NYC?

Depending on where and how you compost in NYC, there may be different requirements for acceptable items. It’s always best to confirm with the host of the composting program, but here are some general guidelines.

What You CAN Compost

Whether you compost via curbside composting, community drop-off sites, or Smart Composting bins, you can always compost the following items:

  • Food scraps, including fruits and vegetables, eggshells, coffee grounds and tea bags, nuts, bread, rice, and pasta 
  • Plant waste, including leaf and yard waste and houseplants

Food scrap drop-off sites can generally only accept the above items. But for curbside composting and Smart Composting bins, you can also compost the following:

  • All food scraps, including the above PLUS meat, bones, dairy, and prepared foods
  • Uncoated food-soiled paper, like pizza boxes or used paper plates

What You CANNOT Compost

Most community drop-off sites cannot accept meat, fish, bones, dairy, prepared foods, or food-soiled paper.

No matter your composting location, there are some items that can never be composted. These include:

  • Garbage, including diapers, personal hygiene products, animal waste, wrappers, non-paper packaging, and foam products
  • Recyclable materials, like bottles and cans

How to Compost in New York City

Getting started with composting in NYC is fairly simple, and it’s becoming even easier as DSNY expands its composting network. Follow the steps below to get started. 

Step 1: Learn About NYC’s Composting Programs

The NYC Department of Sanitation provides composting services a few different ways, depending on your location:

  • Curbside Composting: compost is collected by sanitation workers every week along with your recycling. No sign-up is required once it’s in your area – it’s currently available in all of Queens and Brooklyn, and select areas of Manhattan and the Bronx.
  • Drop-Off Composting: many community gardens and farmer’s markets throughout the city host composting sites where you can drop-off your compost on certain days and times.
  • Smart Composting Bins: these are public composting bins located in select neighborhoods throughout the city where you can drop-off your compost any time of day. To use these bins, you’ll need to download an app which will allow you to view bins on a map, see which ones are available, and unlock the bins.

Step 2: Select a Composting Bin

In order to start composting, you’ll need somewhere to collect and store your compostable materials in between pick-ups or drop-offs. It’s important to consider both how much space you have and how much you’ll be composting regularly. 

There are many bin options out there – from electronic composters to worm bins – if you’d like to begin your own compost pile, but these aren’t necessary for those of us who don’t have the ability to garden at home. 

The average person who wants to participate in the city’s composting programs doesn’t need anything fancy – any kind of airtight container or even Ziploc bag will suffice for collecting food waste in your home between drop-offs.

For curbside composting, DSNY provides free brown bins at the start of service. But you can also use any labeled bin, 55 gallons or less, with a secure lid. You can line this bin with any type of bag.

Step 3: Collect Compostable Materials

To begin composting, you’ll need to start separating your food and yard waste from your other trash. Rather than disposing of organic matter in the garbage can, you should instead collect them in your composting bin. 

Your compost bin can sit out on your kitchen counter, or you can store it in your fridge or freezer to avoid bugs or prevent any smells from developing.

Step 4: Know What Not to Compost

Depending on where you’re dropping off your compost, there may be restrictions on what you can and cannot add to your compost. Community drop-off sites generally don’t accept meat, bones, dairy, or prepared foods, but you can double check with the host. 

If you have curbside composting or drop-off at a Smart Composting bin, you can generally compost any food waste, uncoated food-soiled paper, and plant waste.

Just remember: don’t put any trash or recyclable materials in your compost! This includes hygiene products, animal waste, and bottles and cans.

Step 5: Set Out or Drop Off Your Compost

Time to dispose of your compostable waste! 

If you’re participating in curbside composting, you should set out your brown bin every week at the same time as your recycling pick-up. 

If you’re dropping off at a Smart Composting bin, you can access the bins 24/7 using the app, provided they’re not at capacity – check the app to make sure. 

If you’re dropping off at a community site, double check its hours to make sure it’s open.

Where are compost drop-off locations in NYC?

You can check DSNY’s website to find a community drop-off site or Smart Composting bin near you. For drop-off sites, you can view the site’s hours and details regarding what items are accepted.

DSNY composting map in Brooklyn
Here’s a look at DSNY’s compost drop-off map. Orange represents Smart Composting Bins, and green represents Food Scrap Drop-Off Sites.

Future of NYC Composting

It’s safe to say that the future of NYC composting is bright, thanks to the efforts of DSNY and composting advocates all over the city. Within the next year, curbside composting will be available in all five boroughs, in addition to community drop-off sites and smart composting bins becoming more accessible. 

Awareness surrounding the importance of composting and supporting green spaces is continuing to grow amongst New Yorkers. We look forward to a future with less food waste in our city!

Start Composting in the City Today!

Composting is one of the best things you can do as an individual to help lower the city’s greenhouse gas emissions, improve public health, and support green spaces. We encourage you to follow the resources above to find a composting service near you and get started today.

If you’re a homeowner interested in learning about other ways you can become more sustainable, consider going solar! Schedule a free consultation with us to find out if your home is right for solar energy.

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