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Saving NYC Composting: Compost 101

Composting can (and should) be an essential part of your life. With the NYC composting budget cuts in the past year, we compiled some simple steps and helpful resources to divert food waste from landfill right at home, even if you are a city resident! 

Diverting textiles from landfill is an intrinsic component of our daily routine at Jussara Lee. Here we apply creativity to transform otherwise unusable fabric remnants into something desirable and “new.” Composting uses the same philosophy by reducing emissions and landfill waste, and last year, NYC diverted over 42,000 MT of CO2 from being released into our air. This was accomplished with only 10% of New Yorkers having access to a compost brown bin! 

Much to our chagrin, in April 2020, NYC suspended the curbside composting pick up program until June 2021 due to budget cuts related to the coronavirus pandemic. 

After a year of the suspension of the NYC curbside composting program, brown bins will be back on the streets in October 2021 with residents and building operators to voluntarily opt-in beginning in August. We must never give up the fight for environmental justice and continue to advocate for these programs.

Maintaining the status quo yields no progression. When we unite in solidarity and demand systemic change, only then, the big corporations will stop commoditizing the land for profit. They need to be held accountable when they choose not to think of the common well being of the planet as their actions cause serious social and environmental repercussions that we all suffer from.

To keep composting free, public, and ultimately accessible we must acknowledge our individual impact and exercise what is in our power to protect the well being of the planet, that includes you and I!

    Composting 101: Collective Action at Home

    Create your own DIY compost, sign up for Curbside Composting, or try other at-home composting methods to implement an earth-loving practice in your lifestyle. Here are some options we selected to guide you through it:

    1. Compost Drop-off

    Photo courtesy of GROWNYC

    Collect your food scraps at home in a stainless steel compost bin or in reusable tupperware. The bin can be left on the counter top for easy access, although storing the scraps in the freezer will prevent any potential mold, odor, or bugs. Plus, it makes the scraps freeze together for easier disposal at the drop-off site. Organizations such as GROWNYC and the Lower East Side Ecology Center provide a collection schedule so you know exactly when and where you can drop off your biodegradable waste. Before getting started, be sure to note which waste is accepted!

    2. Curbside Composting

    Image courtesy of: Stephen Groves/AP/Shutterstock

    If you want a compost bin for your building or apartment, sign-up on the DSNY website! Here’s what can go inside:

    • Coffee grounds and tea bags
    • Shells (seafood, nut, and egg)
    • Bones
    • Spoiled and expired food
    • Food soiled paper (napkins, towels, uncoated plates, bags, trays, boxes)

    3. DIY Bin

    Photo Courtesy of: Hiroko Tabuchi, The New York Times  

    DIY bins are the cheapest, most accessible option for at-home composting. All you need is a bin, your browns (leaves, dirt, twigs, etc.), greens (your compost scraps) and water. New York Times columnist Hiroki Tabuchi breaks down her odorless cardboard box method which involves aerobic decomposition so your “compost by your couch” is odorless!

    Her Japanese method uses coco peat, coconut husks and kuantan (rice husk ash). We find that as long as you stick to the essentials—browns, greens and water—you can break down your food waste just fine. This method is perfect for compost beginners, city-residents, and anyone that wants to show some love to Mother Earth while having a little fun.

    Some quick tips from Hiroki:

    • Use any large cardboard box — not plastic or metal, which won’t let the compost breathe — and reinforce the bottom of the box with an extra layer of cardboard. 
    • Raise the cardboard box on some blocks to further improve air flow. Use roughly three parts coco peat, two parts ash - Hiroki uses a tea towel, secured with string, to cover her box.
    • A good-sized box can process upwards of 1.5 pounds of fruit and veggie scraps a day.
    • Stir the compost frequently
    • You can keep using the same box and use it for years!
    • If your bin starts getting full, put some on your houseplants.

    Check out Hiroki’s article here.

    4. Vermicomposting

    Image Courtesy of: @simplybychristine

    Vermicomposting is not as complicated as it sounds: with just a few ingredients, you can concoct a mutually beneficial mini ecosystem in your home. This method involves some wiggler worms and is a common solution for food waste in small homes or apartments. Before you eliminate this option because of an aversion to these little critters, they have been known to produce “liquid gold” for gardens and are ideal for breaking down your scraps. Rather than send your food waste to landfill, why not treat these little guys to your leftover remnants?

    This method involves a tiered system which you can purchase or make yourself. Once the worms eat all of the scraps, the byproduct will drop to the bottom pan. The worms will crawl their way up throughout the layers and continue to eat up the scraps. The resulting substance is extremely nutrient-dense that you can use for plants indoors or outdoors!

    Basic Ingredients:

    • Tiered layer system 
    • Wet paper scraps 
    • Wiggler worms 
    • Food scraps (do not compost meat, grease, fat, bones, or dairy) 

    Check out this How to Compost With Worms post by minimalist and zero-waste blogger Simply by Christine where she breaks it all down - no pun intended :) 


    Composting Beginner Tips

    • Just starting out? Freeze your food scraps in a container to later add to your DIY compost
    • Cut your compost contents - breaking them down first will speed things up!
    • Add a rich fertilizer to your compost catalyze the composting process by introducing microorganisms 
    • These microorganisms are just like us and need a healthy dose of water and even aeration to stay alive! Regularly turn your compost - anaerobic (without oxygen) composts won’t be able to break down.
    • A well-balanced compost shouldn’t smell, so a funky odor coming from your bin may be a sign to add more ‘brown’ ingredients 

    Just like the diverse and rich environment that composting fosters, the possibilities of composting are also plentiful. The Beginners Guide to Composting is a wonderful resource to learn more about different composting methods and their benefits. Composting is a mutually beneficial, symbiotic process that you can engage in every day to show love to the planet, your garden, and yourself!