Re: The Pros and Cons of New York’s Fledgling Compost Program: NY Times [1 Attachment]


This reminds me of one of the low hanging fruits of the "market pull" world.

Every village, town and city I know of has a public works department of
some sort responsible for collecting dead branches and trees. These are
normally chipped and often landfilled. According to the most recent Parks
Department data I could find, NYC, for example, landfills tons annually at
the cost of millions of dollars.

Since all of the collection costs are already incurred, this situation
offers an ideal opportunity to convert waste to biochar. The biochar can
then be used on parks and playing fields. The elimination of landfill costs
and the opportunity to cut fertilizer and watering costs should
substantially offset any production and handling costs.

Here, it seems to me, is a largely unproblematic way to incorporate biochar
in a big way and to demonstrate its virtues.

This is not a situation that requires expensive equipment and quality
control. In many places, simple TLUDs employing the homeless and unemployed
would do the job.


On Wed, Nov 14, 2018, 3:02 AM [biochar] < wrote:

[Attachment(s) <#m_2090034984689118709_TopText> from included below]

Next steps in my opinion would be to find someone that has the bandwidth,
interest and expertise to focus on this. Most likely that would be someone
that will earn some money from it either by consulting or selling product
(or technology) to them eventually. I don’t know any biochar experts in NYC
to recommend. [NYC is too far from me, the scope too big and too long-term
for me to take it on - sorry]. If someone does identify any individuals
that are interested in biochar education from NY State, I can add them to
my ever growing list of folks that I keep informed about biochar happenings
(this is only for NYS – otherwise keeping a list would overwhelm me!).

Attached is a picture of the Biomass Controls
<> unit at RIT which I took a few months
ago. They are doing different small scale research projects at the moment.
It’s not really public at this stage as they are still getting to know the
equipment and identifying different biomass sources to carbonize &
characterize. Dr. Tom Trabold gave a talk about some of their previous
research at the 2018 US Biochar Conference. You can find the paper on that
work here:
This was a joint collaboration project with RIT, Cornell & Ithaka. I assume
Tom or one of his students will be at next year’s conference and can add
more about their efforts.



*[image: cid:image001.jpg@01D1A9DA.3F10B800]*

Global best practices for biochar in agriculture, landscaping,
reforestation, construction and more:

New articles about climate farming, wine growing and ecology in our Ithaka

Biochar blogging at:

*From:* Kim Chaffee <>
*Sent:* Tuesday, November 13, 2018 12:59 PM
*To:* Draper Kathleen <>
*Cc:* Ronal W. Larson <>; biochar <>
*Subject:* Re: [biochar] The Pros and Cons of New York’s Fledgling
Compost Program: NY Times [3 Attachments]

Thanks, Kathleen, Ron, Mike et al. These are all good builds on this
topic. What would be a specific action item or two for moving this forward
with the NYC folks? Also, Kathleen, do you have any information on the
Biomass Controls unit and project at RIT? Thanks again.


On Nov 13, 2018, at 12:36 PM, <> <> wrote:

Hi Kim et al –

I’m actually in discussions with some folks about piloting something like
this including biochar (of course!) in Western NY. We are in the early
planning stages but if it goes well we hope to be a demo site for others in
NYS. There are (supposedly) regulations coming down in the next few years
to restrict organics to landfill so there is a lot of attention being paid
to alternatives at the moment. The Rochester Institute of Technology is at
the forefront of educating policy makers about the benefits of
thermochemical conversion. They will be hosting a seminar in March on food
waste alternatives and will be showing off their Biomass Controls unit
which they are currently using to carbonize different types of food waste.




Global best practices for biochar in agriculture, landscaping,
reforestation, construction and more:

New articles about climate farming, wine growing and ecology in our Ithaka

Biochar blogging at:

*From:* Ronal W. Larson <>
*Sent:* Tuesday, November 13, 2018 12:10 PM
*To:* biochar <>; Kim Chaffee <>; Kathleen Draper <>
*Subject:* Re: [biochar] The Pros and Cons of New York’s Fledgling
Compost Program: NY Times [3 Attachments]

Kim: cc List and Kathleen

I urge also adding the option of following Stockholm's
lead with an emphasis on biochar. Look at the recent IBI webinar -
organized by Kathleen. Former Mayor Bloomberg supplied seed funds and
might want to do the same again.


On Nov 12, 2018, at 2:41 PM, Kim Chaffee[biochar] <> wrote:

*[Attachment(s) from Kim Chaffee included below]*


It sounds like NYC would be open to guidance on composting. How could we
integrate biochar into this program?

Kim Chaffee

Richmond, VA USA

If successful, it could reduce landfill use and save the city millions.
There are a few obstacles to work through first, though.

Composting has such potential. It can reduce the garbage sent to landfills
and save money at the same time. San Francisco claims to have reduced
landfill usage by 80 percent, and Seoul, South Korea, a city of 10 million,
claims that it saves $600,000 daily by charging residents and businesses
fees for discarded food scraps.

But for New York City, where food scraps account for an estimated
one-third of all garbage, composting is hardly making rapid or dramatic

In 2015, Mayor Bill de Blasio introduced the “Zero Waste
initiative, aiming for a 90 percent reduction in landfill use by 2030. A
cornerstone of the plan was a robust compost program, where organic matter
would be placed in brown bins provided by the city, picked up by the
Sanitation Department, and then sold or delivered to places that turn the
food into compost for gardening or convert it to energy. It is the largest
compost program in the country, with brown bins for 3.5 million residents
across the five boroughs, said Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia.

But the program picked up only 43,000 tons of food scraps last year.

That’s about five percent of the city’s total food waste sent to
landfills. For those following the Zero Waste target: We only have 85
percent more to go.


The brown bin compost program, which started as a small pilot program on
Staten Island in 2013, was expected to expand citywide by the end of this
year. But the pickup service in some of the 24 neighborhoods where it is
offered has been reduced and expansion plans have been delayed.

This leaves many New Yorkers wondering whether a composting program across
the city will work. Here is an explanation of where things stand.

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How does composting save money?

The less we export to landfills, the more money we save.

The city will spend $411 million in 2019 to export about 2.5 million tons
of residential, school and governmental trash to landfills located as far
away as South Carolina. In 2014 the city spent $300 million. The export
cost is expected to increase to $421 million by 2021.

“At this rate, we will be spending half a billion dollars,” said Antonio
Reynoso, chairman of the City Council’s sanitation committee.
Is composting lucrative for the city?

Not yet. The compost program cost the city $15.7 million this year, and
unlike recycling (which costs less to process than landfill waste,
according to Mr. Reynoso), so far it doesn’t bring in much money. Last
year, the city earned $58,000 from selling compost, according to the
Sanitation Department. So there’s room for growth.
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Who currently gets the brown bins?

Buildings with nine or fewer units in the community districts where there
is curbside service
<> automatically
receive brown bins, along with information on what can go in them (yes to
meat and bones and coffee grounds and food-soiled paper; no to cat litter,
diapers and plastic bottles). Buildings with more than nine units must
<> for
the program.
Is the compost program in jeopardy?

It’s certainly not a raging success. At this moment, the Sanitation
Department is not on track to expand the program on time and has cut
brown-bin pickup service from twice a week in some areas to once weekly, on
recycling days. Service and pickup schedules have been experimental as the
Sanitation Department tested behaviors, types of garbage trucks and routes,
a Department spokeswoman said.
What was the problem with composting?

Low participation in the neighborhoods that took part in the pilot program
led to inefficiencies and high costs, Ms. Garcia said. “We love
composting,” said Kristin Brady, of Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, who uses the
service every week. “But most of the people we know don’t compost because
of cleaning the honestly somewhat gross outdoor brown bin.” A Department
spokeswoman said that residents put only about 10 percent of their food
scraps in the brown bins, throwing the rest in the garbage. Thus, garbage
trucks with special compost compartments were running around with little to
Why is participation so low?

Mr. Reynoso, who represents parts of Brooklyn, said he thinks the problem
is a lack of advertising and education, and the fact that the program is
voluntary. His efforts to increase the compost advertising budget have been
unsuccessful, he said.

“Survey 10 people in New York City, and you would be hard-pressed to find
a single person who knows how recycling works and how to make it work
right, and what it means to the city financially,” Mr. Reynoso said. “In my
building, we received the brown bins, and some fliers. I guarantee I’m the
only person in my building who knows how to use them.”
What are the major hurdles?

“The biggest challenge is asking New Yorkers to do something different,”
Ms. Garcia said. She told a story about how the department was handing out
brown bins and an older man said that he didn’t want one.

“But we were handing out compost at the same time, and he definitely
wanted the compost,” Ms. Garcia said. “We said, ‘We really need your banana
peels in order to make this in the future.’ He took the brown bin.
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Is there any good news?

New Yorkers are throwing out less trash. In 2017, the Sanitation
Department collected 2.5 million tons of garbage destined for landfill,
down from 2.8 million tons in 2005, even as the population grew.

While our residential recycling rate is quite low at 17 percent, New
Yorkers are good recyclers of corrugated cardboard, for example (79
What about waste from businesses?

Businesses in New York City must pay to haul away their trash (an
estimated 11 million tons of it every year). In 2017, large food service
establishments and arenas were required to separate their food waste or
face fines. In August of this year, the New York City Council passed an
<> to
require large restaurants and hotels and large food manufacturers to
separate out their food waste. Fines will begin in February.

Just this week, the city announced new rules that will require all private
haulers picking up commercial waste to provide recycling and organics
collection. Businesses will be incentivized. They will pay lower rates for
food scrap and recycling pickups than they will for garbage, a spokeswoman
for the Sanitation Dept. said.
Will composting come to high-rise apartment buildings?

It’s a work in progress. The Department of Sanitation says that 2,000 high
rises throughout the five boroughs currently have brown bin service. An
effort is underway to sign up more high rises in Manhattan and the South

Council Member Ben Kallos represents the Upper East Side of Manhattan. The
168,000 residents in his district, the second largest in the city, mostly
live in high rises. Mr. Kallos has proposed a measure that would mandate
the mayor’s Zero Waste initiative to include targets and updates. The
measure failed, and the effort to bring residential composting to his
district has been frustrating, he said.

“We’ve worked with a number of residents and buildings to get composting,”
Mr. Kallos said. “But I’ve yet to hear of any successes. I’ve never seen
any brown bins in my district and I’d be surprised if there are any.”


(A spokeswoman for the Department of Sanitation said that curbside service
is available in all of Manhattan, including the Upper East Side, where 33
high-rise buildings have signed up for it.)
Is there a future for composting in New York City?

Experts are cautiously optimistic. Ms. Garcia said the city’s compost
program is a priority, and the city remains dedicated to its Zero Waste
goal. Ms. Garcia pointed out that residential compost collection is
increasing. In 2017, the city collected 13,000 tons. In 2018, that amount
grew to 43,000 tons (31,000 from brown bin pickups and another 12,000 from
fall leaves, Greenmarket pickups and the Christmas tree recycling program).

“We’ve seen a lot of growth,” said Ms. Garcia, aided in large part by the
work of nonprofits like the NYC Compost Project (
and GrowNYC <>, which provide food scrap drop-off
sites at subway stops and at green markets.

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