PERIL & PROMISE: NEW YORK’S TRASH SOLUTION…COMPOSTING!

New York City Department of Sanitation Commissioner Jessica Tisch gives us a peek at the launch of the nation’s largest curbside composting program.  Beginning October 3, all residential buildings in Queens will receive weekly collection of leaf and yard waste, food scraps, and food-soiled paper products, which is the first time than an entire borough will receive this service.  By removing more trash off the streets, could the program also be a solution to the city’s growing rat problem?  Commissioner Tisch will be here to tell us.

Peril and Promise is a public media initiative from The WNET Group, reporting on the human stories of climate change and its solutions. You can learn more at pbs.org/perilandpromise. Major funding for Peril and Promise is provided by Dr. P. Roy Vagelos and Diana T. Vagelos with additional funding from Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, and the Estate of Worthington Mayo-Smith.

 

TRANSCRIPT

> STARTING THIS FALL, WE'RE BRINGING GUARANTEED WEEKLY CURBSIDE COMPOSTING TO THE ENTIRE BOROUGH OF QUEENS.

THIS WOULD MAKE NEW YORK CITY HOME TO THE LARGEST CURBSIDE COMPOSTING PROGRAM IN THE NATION.

THE LARGEST.

IN THE NATION.

GOOD EVENING, AND WELCOME TO 'METROFOCUS.'

I'M JACK FORD.

THAT WAS MAYOR ERIC ADAMS ANNOUNCING THE LAUNCH OF NEW YORK'S LATEST COMPOSTING PROGRAM, SET TO START THIS OCTOBER.

IF SUCCESSFUL, THE PROGRAM WOULD GET NEW YORK CITY ON TRACK TO RECYCLE AND REUSE AS SOIL NEARLY A THIRD OF THE TRASH THAT NOW ENDS UP IN LANDFILLS.

BUT THIS IS NOT THE FIRST TIME THE CITY HAS TRIED TO GET NEW YORKERS TO COMPOST THEIR TRASH.

THE PREVIOUS PROGRAM WAS SUSPENDED BACK IN 2020 DUE TO THE PANDEMIC AND THEN CUT ENTIRELY BY THE INCOMING MAYOR TO SAVE MONEY.

AT THE TIME THE MAYOR PROMISED TO MAKE COMPOSTING MORE EFFICIENT, AND AS HE SEES IT, MORE DRAMA FREE.

JOINING US NOW TO TALK ABOUT HOW I THE CITY'S NEW COMPOSTING PROGRAM DOES THAT AS PART OF OUR PERIL AND PROMISE INITIATIVE REPORTING ON CLIMATE CHANGE AND ITS SOLUTIONS IS THE CITY'S SANITATION COMMISSIONER.

THANKS FOR JOINING US.

THANKS FOR HAVING ME.

LET'S START WITH BASICS IF WE CAN.

WE'LL TURN THIS INTO A TUTORIAL, IF YOU WILL.

EXPLAIN TO US EXACTLY WHAT COMPOSTING IS.

, SO COMPOSTING IS THE PROCESS BY WHICH ORGANIC MATERIAL IS RECLAIMED FROM THE WASTE STREAM.

APPROXIMATELY ONE-THIRD OF THE WASTE STREAM IN NEW YORK CITY IS ORGANIC MATERIAL.

SO THAT MEANS LEAF AND YARD WASTE, FOOD SCRAPS AND FOOD SOILED PAPER.

RIGHT NOW, TOO MUCH OF THAT GOES TO THE LANDFILL EVERY DAY, WHERE IT SITS AND RELEASES METHANE GAS.

INSTEAD, STARTING OCTOBER 3rd, WE WANT TO LET EVERY RESIDENT IN QUEENS TAKE OUT, SEPARATE OUT THEIR ORGANIC MATERIAL, AND WE'LL PICK IT UP WEEKLY, AND INSTEAD OF SENDING IT TO LANDFILL, WE'LL -- [ INAUDIBLE ].

LET ME ASK YOU ABOUT THE BENEFITS.

WE'VE HEARD CONVERSATIONS OFTEN TIMES ABOUT THE BENEFITS TO SOCIETY AS A WHOLE, BUT WE'RE ALSO HEARING THE CITY SAY THERE ARE BENEFITS TO INDIVIDUAL CITIZENS HERE.

EXPLAIN TO US WHAT THE VIEW IS ABOUT THE BENEFITS OF THE PROGRAM.

SO ONE OF THE I THINK COUNTERINTUITIVE BENEFITS TO THE PROGRAM, IN NEW YORK CITY WE HAVE A PROBLEM WITH RATS.

THIS WILL GET THE STUFF THAT ATTRACTS THE RATS OUT OF THE TRASH BAGS.

SO REALLY THE FOOD WASTE IS WHAT I'M TALKING ABOUT HERE.

AND BY TAKING THE FOOD WASTE, SEPARATING IT OUT FROM THE TRASH AND SETTING IT OUT IN BINS WHERE RATS CAN'T GET TO IT, WE THINK WE CAN MAKE A REAL DENT ON THE RAT PROBLEM.

AND LET ME ASK YOU, GO BACK A LITTLE BIT.

YOU STARTED TO TOUCH ON IT.

THAT IS THE PROCESS, THE COLLECTION, AND THEN THE COMPOSTING PROCESS ITSELF.

GIVE US A SENSE HOW THAT'S GOING TO TAKE PLACE.

SURE.

EVERY DAY IN NEW YORK CITY, WE COLLECT OVER 24 MILLION POUNDS OF TRASH AND RECYCLING.

SO, IN QUEENS IF WE TAKE A THIRD OF THAT OUT AND SEPARATE IT OUT IN BROWN BINS -- EVERY QUEENS RESIDENT CAN GET A BROWN BIN FOR FREE FROM US, OR THEY CAN USE THEIR OWN BIN.

ONCE A WEEK THEY'LL TAKE THEIR LEAF AND YARD WASTE, THEIR FOOD SCRAPS, THEIR FOOD SOILED PAPER, PUT KNIT OUR BIN OR A BIN THAT THEY PURCHASED THEMSELVES.

AND THEY LEAVE IT IN FRONT OF THE CURB JUST LIKE THEY WOULD THEIR CRASH AND RECYCLING.

WE'LL COME PICK IT UP.

YOU MENTION QUEENS.

WHY IS THIS PROGRAM STARTING JUST IN QUEENS?

SO, FIRST, QUEENS IS THE MOST DIVERSE COUNTY IN THE COUNTRY, AND SO WE REALLY WANTED A PROGRAM THAT WOULD WORK FOR ALL NEW YORKERS.

AND THEN WITHIN QUEENS THERE'S DIFFERENT PARTS OF IT THAT WILL SEE DIFFERENT REAL BENEFITS FROM THE PROGRAM.

SO EASTERN QUEENS, FOR EXAMPLE, WE SEE A LOT OF YARDS, A LOT OF YARD WASTE, A LOT OF LEAVES WE'RE EXPECT OUT OF EASTERN QUEENS.

IN WESTERN QUEENS, RATS ARE A REALLY BIG ISSUE, AND WE ALSO HAVE A LOT OF COMMUNITIES IN WESTERN QUEENS CLAMORING FOR A COMPOSTING PROGRAM.

IS THERE A TIMETABLE YET FOR WHEN THE CITY MIGHT ANTICIPATE EXPANDING THE PROGRAM THE OTHER BOROUGHS?

NO TIMETABLE YET.

I MEAN, THE PROGRAM HASN'T LAUNCHED YET.

IT LAUNCHES ON OCTOBER 3rd.

AND WE'VE SAID, THE NEXT COMPOSTING PROGRAM THAT WE LAUNCH IN NEW YORK CITY HAS TO BE OUR LAST.

AND SO WE WANT TO MAKE SURE THAT WE GET THIS RIGHT, GET IT RIGHT IN QUEENS IN A WAY THAT WORKS FOR NEW YORKERS, AND THEN ONCE WE'VE GOTTEN IT RIGHT IN QUEENS WE'LL THINK ABOUT WHERE AND HOW TO EXPAND.

WE'VE ALSO SEEN IN THE ANNOUNCEMENT THAT THE COMPOSTING PROGRAM IS GOING TO BE SEASONAL.

WHAT'S THE REASONING BEHIND THAT?

, SO I THINK IT WILL BE SEASONAL AT FIRST.

SO WE'LL LAUNCH IN OCTOBER.

IT WILL RUN THROUGH DECEMBER.

WE'LL TAKE A PAUSE FOR THE WINTER AROUND CHRIS MAST TIME, JANUARY, FEBRUARY.

AND WE'LL RESTART IN MARCH.

I THINK THE KEY DRIVER OF THAT WAS WE DON'T WANT TO BE WASTEFUL.

WE DON'T WANT EMPTY TRUCKS.

AND WHAT WE'VE SEEN AND LEARNED FROM OTHER CITIES THAT HAVE LAUNCHED COMPOSTING PROGRAMS IS THAT IN THEIR INFANCY, LEAF AND YARD WASTE DRIVES THE TONNAGE.

SO LEAF AND YARD WASTE REALLY IS MINIMAL DURING THE WINTER MONTHS, WHICH IS WHY WE'RE GOING TO TAKE A BRIEF THREE-MONTH PAUSE FOR THE WINTER AND WE'LL RESUME AGAIN IN THE SPRING.

I MENTIONED IN THE DESTRUCTION THAT THE MAYOR HAD MADE REFERENCE TO THIS PROGRAM HOPEFULLY BEING A LITTLE MORE DRAMA FREE.

WHAT DID HE MEAN BY THAT?

THE OLD PROGRAMS IN NEW YORK CITY WERE REALLY HARD TO USE FOR NEW YORKERS.

THEY HAD TO GO THROUGH SO MANY STEPS EVEN TO PARTICIPATE IN THE PROGRAM SOME THE FIRST THING THEY HAD TO DO WAS RAISE THEIR HANDS AND FILL OUT A FARM AND EXPRESS THEIR INTEREST IN THE PROGRAM.

AND ONLY THE COMMUNITY DISTRICTS AT THE HIGHEST LEVEL OF EXPRESSED INTEREST WERE ABLE TO PARTICIPATE.

THEN ONCE THEIR COMMUNITY DISTRICT WAS CHOSEN, THEY HAD TO SIGN UP TO BE PART OF THE PROGRAM.

SO IT WASN'T, LIKE, AUTOMATIC TRUCKS ROLLING TO THEIR HOUSE EVERY WEEK.

AND FINALLY, ONCE THEY EXPRESSED THEIR INTEREST, SIGNED UP FOR THE PROGRAM, TO USE IT EACH WEEK, THEY COULD ONLY USE A BROWN BIN THAT WAS PROVIDED BY NEW YORK CITY.

WHAT WE'VE DONE IN THIS PROGRAM IS SAID, ALL RIGHT, WE ARE TAKING ALL THESE HURDLES AWAY.

THIS NEEDS TO BE SIMPLE AND EASY TO USE FOR NEW YORKERS.

NO MORE EXPRESSIONS OF INTEREST.

NO MORE RAISING YOUR HAND AND SIGNING UP.

AND YOU DON'T EVEN HAVE TO USE OUR BROWN BIN.

USE OUR BROWN BIN IF YOU WANT.

WE'LL SEND IT TO YOU FOR FREE.

BUT IF YOU DON'T WANT TO USE OUR BROWN BIN, USE A BIN YOU HAVE.

IF IT'S LEAF AND YARD WASTE, JUST SET IT OUT ON THE CURB.

PUT A BAG IN THE BIN, DON'T PUT A BAG IN THE BIN.

WE'RE TRYING TO BE EASY BREEZY TO MAKE THIS STRAIGHTFORWARD AND SIMPLE FOR NEW YORKER.

WE WANT NEW YORKER TOS THINK ABOUT THIS AS A SERVICE WE ARE PROVIDING TO THEM, NOT A SERVICE THAT THE CITY IS ASKING THEM TO PROVIDE BACK.

DO YOU ANTICIPATE MUCH IN THE WAY OF ANY KIND OF PUSHBACK?

PUSHBACK CAN MEAN ACT TIFF PUSHBACK OR PEOPLE SAYING, I JUST DON'T WANT TO GET INVOLVED RIGHT NOW.

SO, IN THE LEAD UP TO THE LAUNCH OF THIS PROGRAM WE'RE DONE A TREMENDOUS AMOUNT OF OUTPREACH.

WE'VE DONE PAID MEDIA AND COMMUNITY ETHNIC MEDIA FOCUS ON QUEENS.

WE'VE DONE TRADITIONAL MEDIA, PRESS CONFERENCES AND BROWN BIN GIVEAWAYS.

WE'VE ALWAYS BEEN CANVASSING, WHICH MEANS WE HAVE SANITATION WORKERS AND PATIENT EMPLOYEES AND PROFESSIONALS GOING DOOR TO DOOR IN QUEENS TO TEACH QUEENS RESIDENTS ABOUT A PROGRAM.

AND IN THAT VAN CASSING, WE SEE A FEW THINGS.

FIRST WORK SEE A LOT OF EXCITEMENT.

PEOPLE ARE LOOKING FORWARD TO GETTING THIS VERSE.

OBVIOUSLY THERE'S MORE EXCITEMENT IN SOME NEIGHBORHOODS THAN OTHERS.

IN AS TO HAVE ASTORIA THEY HAVE BEEN CLAMORING FOR A COMPOSTING PROGRAM.

SO WE'VE SEEN ENERGY OUT OF CERTAIN COMMUNITIES OTHER COMMUNITIES THAT HAVEN'T NECESSARILY BEEN CLAMORING, IT'S CLEAR THE EDUCATION WE'RE PROVIDING BY GOING DOOR TO DOOR IS GOING A LONG WAY.

FIRST, INFORMING PEOPLE ABOUT THE NEW SERVICE, HOW IT WORKS.

AND I THINK WHEN NEW YORKERS HEAR HOW SIMPLE AND STRAIGHT FOURTH IT IS FOR THEM TO USE, THEY BECOME REALLY INTERESTED ABOUT IT.

LAST WEEK I WENT OUT AND DID SOME CANVASSING MYSELF OUT IN EASTERN QUEENS, AND THAT WAS A COMMUNITY WHERE I THINK THE EDUCATION WAS REALLY IMPORTANT, AND IT'S GREAT TO SEE WHEN NEW YORKERS LEARN ABOUT IT HOW EXCITED THEY ARE FOR IT TO START.

LET ME GO BACK FOR A MOMENT TO THE PROCESS WE'RE TALK ABOUT.

YOU EXPLAIN THE BINS AND THE COLLECTION PROCESS, AND YOU TALKED ABOUT IN THE INTRODUCTION THE IDEA OF THE ANTICIPATION, THE HOPE THAT INSTEAD OF PUTTING IT IN LANDFILLS IT'S GOING GO SOME PLACE ELSE.

WHERE IS THAT SOME PLACE ELSE?

WHAT WILL HAPPEN TO THIS ON THE BACK END OF THAT PROCESS?

THANKS FOR THE QUESTION.

I THINK THE BIG IDEA HERE IS WE WANT TO DIVERT THIS MATERIAL FROM THE LANDFILL, FROM LANDFILLS, WHERE IT SIT THERE IS FOR YEARS AND PRODUCED METHANE GRASS, WHICH IS A HARMFUL GREENHOUSE GAS.

AND INSTEAD WE EITHER WANT TO USE COMPOSTING, WHERE WE TURN IT INTO SOIL THAT WE THEN GIVE AWAY TO NEW YORKERS, USE FOR PARKS, SELL TO CONTRACTORS.

OR WE WANT TO MAKE RENEWABLE ENERGY OUT OF IT.

SO, IT'S REALLY TWO PLACES WHERE IT GOES, EITHER TO A COMPOSTING FACILITY WHERE IT BECOMES SOIL, OR OUR WASTE WATER TREATMENT PLANT WILL TURN IT INTO RENEWABLE ENERGY.

HOW WILL THIS PROGRAM WORK IN CONJUNCTION -- OR PERHAPS A BETTER QUESTION -- AS A SUPPLEMENT TO OTHER SMALLER PROGRAMS THAT ARE OUT THERE IN NEW YORK CITY BUT THAT ARE VERY ACTIVE NONETHELESS.

WE HAVE A GREAT PROGRAM THAT WE'RE DOUBLING DOWN ON NOW.

WE HAVE SMART BINS IN COMMUNITIES IN THE CITY, AND THOSE SMART COMPOSTING BINS, THEY'RE BIG ORANGE BINS.

THEY'RE ON STREET CORNER.

AND NEW YORKERS CAN TAKE THEIR COMPOSTABLE MATERIAL, THEIR FOOD SCRAPS, FOOD SAIL PAPER, THEIR LEAF AND YARD WASTE, AND THEY CAN DROP IT IN ONE OF THE SMART COMPOSTING BINS, AND THEN WE COME AND SERVICE THOSE BINS.

WE'RE NOW ROLLING THOSE BINS OUT NEAR NEW YORK CITY PUBLIC SCHOOLS.

YOU KNOW, THOSE TEND TO BE VERY CENTRAL AND COMMUNITY, SO PEOPLE PASSING BY, KIDS GOING TO SCHOOL, PARENTS DROPPING THEIR KIDS OFF AT SCHOOL CAN BRING THEIR FOOD SCRAPS FOR EXAMPLE ALONG WITH THEM AND JUST DROP IT IN THE BIN.

WE HAVE UNDER 50 THAT ARE OUT THERE RIGHT NOW.

THEY HAVE BEEN WILDLY SUCCESSFUL.

WE GET REALLY PRISTINE ORGANIC MATERIAL IN THEM.

THEY'RE FILLED EVERY DAY.

AND SO WE ARE NOW DOUBLES DOWN ON THAT PROGRAM, AND WE ARE ROLLING OUT ABOUT 250 SMART COMPOSTING BINS ACROSS THE CITY.

REALLY IN AREAS THAT ARE NOT GOING TO BE GETTING IN THIS FIRST INSTANCE THE DOOR TO DOOR COMPOSTING PICKUPS.

SO WE HAVE BINS ROLLING OUT IN BRONX, CENTRAL BROOKLYN, AND WE'RE TRYING TO SPREAD THE LOVE, SPREAD THE COMPOSTING LOVE AROUND THE CITY.

WITH WE KNOW THAT OFTEN TIMES CHILDREN CAN BE INSTRUMENTAL IN DRIVING CHANGE BY SAYING TO THE PARENTS, NOW, WE SHOULD BE DOING THIS WITH THIS.

IS THERE AANTICIPATION YET OF GETTING THIS INFORMATIONAL PROGRAM INTO THE SCHOOLS TO HELP PUSH THE NOTION OF WHY THIS IS SO IMPORTANT?

YES.

WE ANNOUNCED THIS YEAR THAT WE ARE GOING TO BE ROLLING OUT ORGANIC SEPARATION IN EVERY NEW YORK CITY PUBLIC SCHOOL IN ALL FIVE BOROUGHS.

THERE ARE OVER 1,000 PUBLIC SCHOOLS, AND 11 MILLION NEW YORK CITY PUBLIC SCHOOL STUDENTS.

AND SO BY ROLLING OUT ORGANIC SEPARATION IN ALL SCHOOL CAFE CAFETERIAS, WE AIM TO GIVE NEW YORK CITY'S SCHOOL STUDENTS TO HELP THEM BUILD THE MUSCLE MEMORY, SO IN TURN THEY GO HOME AND SAY TO THE PARENT, I'M SEPARATING OUT MY FOOD SCRAPS IN SCHOOL.

WHY DON'T WE DO THIS AT HOME?

CAN'T TELL YOU HOW MANY PARENTS I'VE COME ACROSS WHO HAVE TOLD ME THAT THEIR LITTLE ONES ARE THE ONE WHO IS COME HOME AND ARE PUSHING THIS IN THE HOUSEHOLD.

TODAY WE'VE ROLLED THIS OUT IN ABOUT HALF OF THE NEW YORK CITY SCHOOLS, AND WE'RE GOING TO DO THE OTHER HALF OVER THE NEXT TWO SCHOOL YEARS.

LAST GOOD QUESTION.

I GOT A LITTLE LESS THAN A MINUTE.

BUT ARE YOU SEEING IN YOUR ROLE AS A COMMISSIONER AND CONVERSATIONS WITH OTHER CITIES THAT ARE STARTING TO DO THESE SAME TYPE PROGRAMS?

WE'VE LEARNED A LOT FROM OTHER CITIES.

THERE ARE A BUNCH OF CITIES IN CALIFORNIA THAT HAVE VERY SUCCESSFUL PROGRAMS.

TORONTO HAS A VERY SUCCESSFUL PROGRAM.

AND WE'VE LEARNED A LOT FROM THEM, AND THAT IS, IF YOU START BY FOCUSING ON LEAF AND YARD WASTE, THAT STUFF IS REALLY EASY FOR PEOPLE TO SEPARATE OUT.

YOU CAN USE THAT AS -- THAT MATERIAL TO DRIVE EARLY ADOPTION.

RIGHT.

WELL, COMMISSIONER, IT SOUNDS LIKE A MARVELOUS PROGRAM GOOD LUCK WITH IT.

AS YOU SAID, CAN ONLY BRING GOOD TO EVERYBODY INVOLVE LD JESSICA TISH, THANK YOU.

GOOD LUCK WITH THE PROGRAM.

THANKS FOR HAVING ME.

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