FEB 06, 2017 09:14 AM PST

NYC: Where does my trash go?


Do you have a trash pick up service? A big smelly truck that drives by your curb every week or every few days and takes "away" your undesirables. Your food waste, plastic waste, beer cans, dog poop. But where is "away"?

In New York City, the acropolis of the world, 8.4 million people are constantly producing waste, and throughout the 19th century all that garbage was just strewn throughout the streets. Only in 1895 was a street cleaning and garbage collection program initiated. And still the trash was dumped into the ocean until 1934 when a Supreme Court case ruled ocean dumping unacceptable. That turned into the disposal system that the Big Apple now utilizes: landfills. But for such a large population, there are not enough landfill spaces with the city for all the waste. NYC currently exports about 85% of its waste to surrounding areas in NJ, PA, VA, and upstate NY, paying approximately $300 million annually for these transportation and landfill services.

In comes a new idea: organic recycling. About 35% of the city's waste comes from organic material (food waste, organic matter such as leaves and grass from landscaping, human and animal waste.). The city's waste services department is attempting to change that organic waste into something helpful - compost - instead of just letting it sit in a landfill and emit the harmful greenhouse gas, methane. Now serving 100,000 households, this composting pilot program is making headway within families and neighborhoods, ultimately teaching the next generation the importance of responsible action with waste all while providing natural fertilizers for growing more food in local farms.
About the Author
  • Kathryn is a curious world-traveller interested in the intersection between nature, culture, history, and people. She has worked for environmental education non-profits and is a Spanish/English interpreter.
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