My office, in coordination with the NYC Departments of Sanitation (DSNY) and Education (DOE) sponsored “Day of Action” today to help raise awareness about the NYC Organics Collection Program, an effort to cut the solid waste produced by city public school cafeterias and produce nutrient-rich compost in the bargain.
During today’s morning school drop-off period, my staff and I fanned out to distribute flyers explaining the program at targeted schools across Manhattan.
The Organics Collection Program grew out of a pilot program that I helped launch with a group of parents in eight West Side schools two and half years ago. The program now has over 100 participating schools in Manhattan, and by October, all 114 DOE schools in Manhattan (and hundreds more in the other boroughs) will be part of the Organics Collection Program.
In addition, as part of a pilot project to expand the program beyond schools, the DSNY is already collecting compostable waste from over two dozen residential buildings along the school pickup routes—adding about 17,000 households to the composting flow. If you’d like to see if your building qualifies, apply here.
Since food waste comprises 40% of a typical school’s waste output, this program has a potential to significantly reduce the city’s solid waste expenses, and produce a beneficial product too. What’s more, by cutting down on the amount of food scraps in trash bags that sit on sidewalks, we can help reduce rodent population and have cleaner sidewalks.
But the biggest challenge to the effectiveness of the program is keeping “contamination” to a minimum—making sure that food and food-soiled paper goes into one bin, and recyclable materials into another, and NON-recyclable materials into a third. High contamination in the food-related bins can render that bin unusable for compost.
To help ensure this program’s success in Manhattan schools, in August I called together representatives from DC 37, 32 BJ, Local 891, and the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators CSA) to sit down with DSNY and DOE to explore how best to support union members working in school cafeterias and kitchens.
With the help of everyone—parents, students, cafeteria staff and school administrators—we can help our kids achieve something great from the results of thousands of simple individual actions: separating food trash and recyclables from non-recyclables. That’s a lesson worth learning (and it all grew from a handful of parent/activists on the West Side!).