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.