New York City residents have a number of options for keeping their food scraps out of the landfill. Few New Yorkers have access to a yard of their own, but our city is dotted with beautiful community gardens, many of which have dedicated composting volunteers. The partner sites of the NYC Compost project (of which Big Reuse is one) all hold household food scrap drop offs, where individuals can bring their food waste for composting. Some NYC communities are also receiving curbside collection of organic waste through the Department of Sanitations’s Organics Collection Program.
No matter how one chooses to compost, they run into the unavoidable issue of how to contain food scraps in transport from the kitchen to the compost pile. Plastic bags are very convenient for this purpose, but they are a significant nuisance in the composting process. Not only do they fail to decompose, but in sealing the food scraps off from the air, they slow the decomposition process and promote production of noxious greenhouse gases.
A recent report put out by the Organics Collection Program lists plastic bag waste as the largest source of contamination for the curbside collection program, and we find that we are constantly pulling plasic bags from our pile at our own composting facility. Many large scale composting facilities will turn food waste contained in plastic bags away at the door, which makes it harder to ensure that the food waste collected from NYC residents actually gets composted.
The good news is that the plastic bag epidemic in food waste collection is avoidable. DSNY emphasizes that residents don’t have to line the “brown bins” used for curbside collection with a bag at all. Food scraps can be stored in a reusable container in the freezer or fridge throughout the week and simply dumped into the brown bins the night before the scheduled collection. We recognize that those who are not in one of the curbside collection areas have a longer walk to drop off their food scraps, so we’ve put together a list of tips on how to transport the material to drop off sites.
One all around solution may be compostable plastic bags. These bags are made from plant oils, and are completely compostable in certain facilities. The NYC Compost Project hosted by Big Reuse accepts compostable plastics at all our drop off sites, and these are a great way to contain food scraps without resporting to traditional plastic bags. Be sure to double check that the bags you purchase are truly compostable — certification from BPI guarantees that they will break down in our site. Also recognize that each composting facility is different, and not all will be able to easily break down compostable plastics. Check with a staff member at your local food scrap drop off to see if they accept compostable plastics.
Plastic bags are a nuisance where ever they are found, whether clogging up the compost pile or rustling in the newly bare tree branches. They are designed to be single-use items, which is antithetical to the Big Reuse state of mind. That’s why we support a city-wide plastic bag fee. We think that if plastic bags were just a little more inconvenient to rely on, the virtues and ease of reusable bags would shine through. And the trees will thanks us, too! If you want to help clean up the plastic bag waste in NYC, get in touch with Mayor DeBlasio and support a bag fee bill.