Curbside compost pick-up is returning to NYC neighborhoods this fall, after the program was cut during the pandemic. However, Bushwick residents will still be ineligible for the service.

The Organics Collection Program, which offers curbside collection of organic materials such as food and yard waste, was expected to expand its services to Bushwick by the end of 2018; however, such plans were suspended by the Department of Sanitation (DSNY) that May. According to a Gothamist article, DSNY Commissioner Kathryn Garcia, who has since run a high profile campaign for mayor, attributed the pause in expansion to the need for the service’s efficiency to be evaluated and improved.

The program continued in other areas of the city until May of 2020, when budget cuts from the pandemic forced the scrapping of the program. In the wake of these cuts, private and volunteer programs stepped in to help New Yorkers dispose of their compost responsibly. These programs include BK ROT, which will pick up compost straight from your doorstep for a monthly fee, and Groundcycle, which was founded by Vivian Lin as a direct response to the citywide cut of compost programs.

Many local politicians and community organizers are disappointed that the program, though relaunching, will not be made mandatory and does not include expansion into neighborhoods that were previously uncovered by the service. 

Even before the Organics Collection Program was stalled, the service was only available in limited neighborhoods, which “left out a lot of Black and brown communities,” as Executive Director of BK ROT Ceci Pineda told The New York Times

Trash bins in front of Know Waste Lands where BK Rot accepts compost drop-offs on Sundays from 12-3 p.m.
BK ROT was founded by Sandy Nurse, organizer and Democratic primary winner for District 37 Council Member.

Sandy Nurse, founded BK ROT and recently won the Democratic primary for Council Member of District 37, which encompasses the heart of Bushwick. When asked why she thought the city had not expanded the Organics Collection Program to Bushwick, Nurse told Bushwick Daily:

“This working class community of color has never been seen by those in power as a community that could participate in this program. I can’t name a reason why besides racist assumptions.”

When the mayor announced the relaunching of the composting program, Antonio Reynoso spoke out on Twitter, calling the program “smoke & mirrors.” Reynoso is currently in his second term as Council Member for District 34, which includes areas of Bushwick and Ridgewood. He also recently won the Democratic primary for Brooklyn borough president, specifically including a “mandatory, citywide organics collection and composting program” in his platform.

Reynoso has served as chair of the Committee on Sanitation and Solid Waste Management, which has oversight over the Organics Collection Program, for both of his terms.

However, he told the BK Reader that the program is “the very opposite of environmental justice,” as it will unjustly “divert millions of dollars to the wealthiest communities and reinforce the already existing environmental racism in Black, brown, and low-income communities.”

According to Reynoso’s Legislative and Budget Director Asher Freeman, the Committee does not have the power to expand the program into a citywide and mandatory service. Rather, he told Bushwick Daily, legislation must be introduced and passed by the City Council, and no such bill has yet been introduced.

Residents can process their own food scraps at BK ROT’s Know Waste Lands site for free.

“The real key to achieving a curbside program for all New Yorkers lies in the budget,” Nurse explained. “We need a city council that is willing to take on ensuring that we can invest more money into social services such as comprehensive sanitation.”

Freeman also expressed disappointment in the current lack of planned expansion of the services.

“The biggest difference between the previous program and this one is that you now have to sign up for it,” Freeman lamented.

He explained that before the pandemic, if you were in a neighborhood with the service, you received a brown bin to put compost in, and it would be picked up similar to recycling when you put it outside on collection days. However, participation rates were low, which made the program inefficient, as trucks would drive entire routes and pick up minimal compost.

With the relaunched program, Freeman said, residents will have to sign up for the service, which might make the program more efficient but “simultaneously creates a barrier to entry” for a service with already-low participation rates.

Vivian Lin, founder of Groundcycle, is opposed to such barriers to entry. She told Bushwick Daily that composting “should be mandatory and accessible to everybody.” Creating Groundcycle, it was important to her that anyone in Brooklyn could use their bin swap services, a for-purchase program that will deliver local produce and take away compost from your doorstep. She “didn’t want to exclude any neighborhoods in Brooklyn.”

People line up to drop off their compost at GroundCycle.
Groundcycle, founded by Vivian Lin, hosts a compost drop-off on a pay-what-you-can basis.

Discussing the importance of composting in NYC, Nurse emphasizes that “keeping methane out of landfills is a huge part of how we’re going to have a livable city.”

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, these solid waste landfills are the third-largest source of methane emissions in the United States. Methane, a greenhouse gas over 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide, has risen almost 10 percent over the past two decades according to Nature.

For now, Bushwick residents will have to continue paying for such services or bringing their compost to a drop-off location at specified times if they don’t want their organic waste to end up in landfills.

Last image courtesy of Groundcycle. All other photos by Paige Cromley.

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