Save Community Composting

December 10, 2023
By Anastasia Galkowski, Sustainability Manager

We are deeply disappointed to hear about proposed City budget cuts to community composting programs. A piece from THE CITY states that with these cuts, “most food waste collected through public programs will become gas or landfill, not compost.”  Indeed, the proposed cuts have immediate impact: food scrap drop-offs at local processing sites will be eliminated, there will be no free compost for those who care for their neighborhood street trees, curbside composting be delayed again, and 115 green jobs will be lost.

Here is some context for those of you who want to dig into the bigger picture:

1/3 of New York’s waste is organic. In other words, 1/3 of all trash is biodegradable, consisting of things like food scraps, cardboard/paper, or clippings from lawn and garden maintenance. With a network of local organizations dedicated to composting, much of these food scraps and organic waste is currently diverted from landfills and transformed into nutrient-rich soil amendment. These community composting sites provide a vital solution for the ongoing issue of excessive garbage, all the while reducing methane emissions caused from landfills, reducing the presence of rats around food-filled trash bags, and ultimately helping to heal the City’s extremely damaged soils by applying the final product of compost.

Community composting organizations, including Grow NYC, Lower East Side Ecology Center, Earth Matter NY – as well as botanical gardens across the City’s boroughs – divert more than 8.3 million pounds of organic matter from landfills each year!

Unlike in these community-centric programs, most food scraps collected through the City’s Department of Sanitation (DSNY) programs – including brown and orange compost bins – are not actually composted. Many scraps are sent to sewage treatment plants like the one in Newton Creek, where biodigesters use anerobic processes to convert sewage and organic waste to biofuel.

This biofuel is intended to power homes (and is used to power the treatment plant itself) – but the biodigesters’ function has been stalled and problematic since the project began in 2013. Additionally, the process of conversion causes methane to ‘flare off’ into the atmosphere and produces a solid byproduct, most of which gets sent to a landfill anyway. Some scraps from NYC are even being exported out-of-state to Massachusetts to create energy and farm fertilizer.

All of this to say: the current infrastructure and system for composting in New York City needs far more investment, and we stand by other advocates and NYC residents in demanding that the City continue its support for community partners who have passionately promoted and facilitated composting right here in New York for decades.

These organizations are directly involved with residents around the boroughs by facilitating free Master Composter trainings, creating green jobs, and providing educational opportunities for New Yorkers to learn about soil health and get involved with the composting process.

Riverside Park Conservancy is deeply grateful for our partnership with these organizations – they have provided guidance to our team as we launched the Park’s composting site at 95th Street this year and have co-facilitated compost workshops in the Park.

These are deeply valuable organizations that add tremendous value to the City by reducing landfill-bound waste and subsequent air pollution and helping to heal the significantly compromised and polluted soils – all the while creating joyful community of folks who want to be involved in urban gardening and environmental justice work.

We urge you to join us and advocate for community composting. Please sign the Grow NYC petition, urging Mayor Eric Adams to halt the elimination of these essential programs.


About Riverside Park Conservancy
From 59th Street to 181st Street, from riverfront to city-side, Riverside Park Conservancy cares for and enhances six miles of parkland for present and future generations. Working together with the New York City Parks Department, we make improvements as diverse as the park itself and the city it serves.

April 21, 2023

Riverside Park Conservancy today announced the launch of a new park-wide composting initiative to coordinate and increase on-site conversion of landscape waste into nutrient-rich compost. When operating at full capacity, the program is expected to return tons of organic material to the Park landscapes by allowing the leaves, clippings, and other plant material collected by Conservancy and NYC Parks staff during their normal maintenance operations to be processed at the newly equipped facility. This will minimize the amount of organic material from the Park ending up in landfills and reduce the need to purchase and truck in compost from external sites. Critical to the initiative’s success will be the program’s trained, on-site staff, who will oversee a healthy, closed-loop cycle.

The Conservancy works in partnership with NYC Parks to care for five parks: Riverside Park, Riverside Park South, Sakura Park, West Harlem Piers Park, and the shoreline portion of Fort Washington Park up to 181st Street. Comprising nearly 400 acres of public parkland, the area is enjoyed by millions of people each year and provides critical habitat for birds and other wildlife. In the course of their work, staff and volunteers collect tons of plant debris from the Park landscapes annually. In alignment with ongoing initiatives across the City’s parks system, the Conservancy’s Compost Initiative seeks to ensure that more of the fresh compost and wood chips needed for park operations can be generated directly in the Park rather than purchased, reducing trucking and cutting down on landfill waste. At the end of 2022, the Conservancy secured capital funding from a private donor to design and construct a new state-of-the-art “Compost Compound” at 95th Street to facilitate the Park’s on-site composting operations and restore the Park’s surrounding landscape.

“In examining our current practices and facilities, we saw a tremendous opportunity to reduce the amount of organic material we are sending to landfills where it fails to decompose properly,” said Merritt Birnbaum, President & CEO of Riverside Park Conservancy. “Our goal is to disrupt the waste cycle by turning our yard waste into nutrient-rich compost right here in the park and using it to nourish our landscapes. We want to promote Mother Nature’s own system for turning plants into soil and destigmatize the perception of composting as unnatural or unclean. Our hope is to be a model for yet another way that public parks can contribute to a greener, healthier city.”

“The Conservancy’s new composting initiative is an important part of our overarching goal to establish the highest standards of care and stewardship for the entire six miles of the Park,” said Micah Lasher, Chair of the Board of Trustees of Riverside Park Conservancy. “We’re thrilled to be contributing to a more sustainable future for Manhattan’s West Side and look forward to engaging directly with the community in this process.”

“As the caretaker of the City’s more than 30,000 acres of parks, composting has long been a regular part of our sustainable operating practices,” said NYC Parks Commissioner Sue Donoghue. “This new composting initiative aligns with and supports our many composting efforts, and this investment in Riverside Park’s infrastructure will significantly contribute to our efforts to keep our parks cleaner and greener.”

With 40 current full-time Conservancy field staff, 60 full-time NYC Parks field staff, more than 4,500 annual volunteers, and an extremely active local community, Riverside Park has a unique opportunity to train and educate both Park professionals and the general public on the art and science of compost. With the help of grant funding from the NYC Green Relief and Recovery Fund, the Conservancy is adding a dedicated Compost Education Coordinator to its team. Together with other members of the Sustainability Department, this person will have a continuous presence at the Compost Compound to help maintain day-to-day operations and engage staff, volunteers, and the public in best practices for creating a healthy organic waste cycle.

In celebration of Earth Day, the Conservancy will kick off its free compost education programming with a four-part lecture series, funded by the Manhattan Borough President’s Office. Hosted at the 102nd Street Field House in Riverside Park, the interactive talks will focus on the intersections of soil health and environmental justice, featuring speakers with diverse backgrounds and areas of expertise in the field. The first part in the series will take place on Saturday, April 22, at 10:00 am, and all are welcome to attend. Registration is encouraged. Visit riversideparknyc.org/events for the full schedule.

“The Conservancy’s new composting capacity will transform Riverside Park’s carbon footprint and make for a greener West Side,” said Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine. “From the summertime goats who serve as natural gardeners to this closed-loop composting initiative, the Conservancy is consistently a leader in innovative zero-waste tactics and sustainability.”

“Composting is critical for protecting our environment, enriching our green spaces, and helping us achieve our zero-waste goals. As usual, Riverside Park Conservancy is leading by example and taking steps to protect our green spaces for generations to come. I commend Riverside Park Conservancy for its investment in this composting program to maintain and preserve the beauty of Riverside Park — there is no price tag on the work they do for our community,” said Council Member Shaun Abreu.

“News about the climate crisis often talks about the results, not causes; decomposing organic waste is a big contributor to the gases that harm the atmosphere,” said Council Member Gale Brewer. “This new program in the five West Side parks aided by the Riverside Park Conservancy will help keep composting top-of-mind and help keep many, many tons of waste from entering landfills and creating those harmful gases. I hope this pilot project can be applied to all parks citywide.”

“We have made great strides in combatting sanitation concerns across the city – that is in part because non-profit organizations such as the Riverside Park Conservancy have stepped up to bolster sanitation and environmental justice efforts. As the summertime approaches and families are expected to enjoy our beautiful parks, it is crucial that we have the infrastructure necessary to continue composting efforts to maintain clean, green parks,” said Council Member Carmen De La Rosa. “We look forward to supporting the Conservancy’s efforts to educate our community about composting and plant waste in our public spaces, especially in celebration of Earth Day.”

The Compost Initiative is just one tenet of the Conservancy’s new Conservation and Sustainability Department, which was formed in 2022. The initiative focuses on several facets of urban park stewardship including tracking and expanding natural area conservation, reducing fossil fuel consumption and trash output, producing free public education programs, fostering citizen science opportunities, and participating in city-wide advocacy for park equity and environmental justice.

“Soil is alive: it is home to an astounding number of organisms and microorganisms, including bacteria, fungi, and insects. A teaspoon of healthy soil is estimated to contain literally billions of microorganisms. Soil is the basis of biodiversity. It feeds us, filters water, and absorbs an enormous amount of CO2. Yet soil around the planet has been exploited, contaminated, and exhausted through aggressive agriculture practices, industrialization, and pollution. New York City is no exception,” said Anastasia Galkowski, Manager of Sustainability. “By collaborating with NYC Parks and local communities to create compost within Riverside Park, we are forging new ways of working with the resiliency of the soil that sustains us. Learning about and nourishing soil is a form of restorative justice, an act of communal healing. It is truly an honor to be part of this project.”

The Conservancy welcomes inquiries from organizations and groups who are interested in partnerships, and from individuals or institutions that would like to explore research collaborations. The public is encouraged to contact [email protected] to subscribe for email updates about volunteer opportunities and free public programs.  

Riverside Park Conservancy works in partnership with the City of New York to restore, maintain and improve Riverside Park – across six miles, and five parks – running along the Hudson River in Manhattan from 59th Street to 181st Street. Over thirty-five years, the Conservancy has helped transform Riverside Park from a state of neglect to a welcoming oasis.


About Riverside Park Conservancy
From 59th Street to 181st Street, from riverfront to city-side, Riverside Park Conservancy cares for and enhances six miles of parkland for present and future generations. Working together with the New York City Parks Department, we make improvements as diverse as the park itself and the city it serves.

Join Lisa Bloodgood, Director of Horticulture and Stewardship at North Brooklyn Parks Alliance, to learn about legacy toxins in New York City – and to unpack what it means for the soil to be contaminated by these toxins. How does the health of soil and parks, much like air quality, serve as an indicator to how well the city is addressing the ongoing legacies of environmental injustices and environmental racism?

Discussion and questions are enthusiastically encouraged – bring questions along with you! Light snacks and refreshments will be provided.

Join Nando Rodriguez, one of the co-creators of the Hot Box Composting system, to learn about how this innovative method for urban composting came to be – and how his 30+ years of experience in environmental education continues to connect youth in Harlem to the soil hands-on. With a focus in restorative justice, Nando is working to take local composting to another level of community support and push local representatives to deepen participation in NYC.

Discussion and questions are enthusiastically encouraged – bring questions along with you! Light snacks and refreshments will be provided.

Nando Rodriguez was born and raised in the Lower East Side and the Dominican Republic. Raised in a single-parent household, his mother raised 6 children (older sisters helped with the little ones) and he was the youngest. His mother’s reasoning to send him away for a portion of his life was her fear of Nando following in the footsteps of his elder brothers, who were caught between the street life of Alphabet City. Nando spent 5 years in Bonao, D.R. He always felt the need to help others, especially his peers who were less fortunate, and in D.R. he would create spaces for his peers to play games, often inviting youth from other communities to join.

Nando eventually returned to NYC and enrolled in East Side Community High School. It was there that he was introduced to Open Road of NY, as well as The Brotherhood Sister Sol. With Open Road of NY, Nando started to connect his purpose on Earth with Mother Earth and began to assist Open Road with the development of the HotBox. Nando also worked on green space designing with participants of these selected communities using the Participatory Designed process and developing or redesigning green spaces for community engagement.

With The Brotherhood Sister Sol, Nando continues to empower youth to become leaders in their communities. Through love, support, resources and guidance, The Brotherhood Sister Sol team is able to create a Rites of Passage experience for all youth to question what’s not clear to them and speak up when they feel their voice is not being heard.

Instagram: @HotBox.Composting

Join Sashti Balasundaram, a social entrepreneur, innovator, and educator. He founded WeRadiate LLC, an AgTech company that develops smart sensors that digitally track data variables such as compost temperature and humidity. This technology makes it easier for operators to ensure healthy, high-quality standards. Sashti has vast knowledge in community composting; he was a teacher of the NYC Master Composter program, co-founded a community garden in Brooklyn, worked at the Lower East Side Ecology Center in NYC, and the Mayor’s Office in the City of Buffalo. We will dig deep into the importance and process of monitoring soil health, how compost can improve soil quality, and explore policy and opportunities for actionable change.

Discussion and questions are enthusiastically encouraged – bring questions along with you! Light snacks and refreshments will be provided.

Website: WeRadiate 
Instagram: @WeRadiateNY  
Linked-In: WeRadiate

 

Come celebrate Earth Day in Riverside Park! Dr. Robin Lovell, Ph.D. will be leading an interactive lecture exploring the ways that gender and identity intersect with food justice.

This casual event enthusiastically encourages participation and discussion amongst attendees – come with questions! Light snacks and refreshments are provided.

Robin Lovell, Ph.D. is a Professor of Geography in the Sociology Department at Manhattan College. His US-based research explores sustainable agriculture in the Hudson River Valley of New York. His research outside the US examines gender in agroecosystems of the Vietnamese Mekong River Delta. Dr. Lovell also has remote sensing and geography projects in the US and abroad, and a new project exploring how gender, climate change, and armed conflict interact. He is a dedicated teacher and researcher in the  food system and looks forward to sharing how we can all get involved in making NYC a more sustainable place.

Website: https://robinjlovell.com/ 
Linked-In: Robin Lovell 
Twitter: @DrRobinJLovell 
Instagram: @dr.robin.lovell