It Takes a City to Compost

Mayor Bill de Blasio announced his “Zero Waste” plan about a year ago, calling for a 90 percent reduction in solid waste by 2030 and an increase in composting. Twelve months later, people like Lia Lucero and Leroy Daly, who are local composting coordinators and processors, have become the driving force in the mayor’s initiative.

Lucero and Daly work side by side for the NYC Compost Project, an effort that aims to help reduce waste and raise awareness about composting among New Yorkers, hosted by the Lower East Side Ecology Center. Lucero’s duty includes overseeing five composting drop-off locations and collecting food scraps. Daly turns those scraps into compost in a yard on the Lower East Side, then Lucero drops it off to schools, community gardens and local non-profit organizations.

“You can think of it as a big circle of life, not only did you eat your food, but instead of making it regular garbage, you get to have it reused for another purpose,” said Daly.

The NYC Compost Project, which is funded by the Department of Sanitation, has been around since 1993 and has tried collecting food scraps in many ways. One of the methods used has been curbside collection, where city employees install bins in neighborhoods and pick up organics in trucks.

Lucero says, however, that the drop-off program is more flexible, because it offers neighborhoods with tighter space more opportunities to recycle their food scraps. Lucero worked for the curbside collection program before joining the drop-off one.  She loves the job and watching people get excited about composting.

“It always amazes me how such different people come together, doing their part, to make New York City a greener, more sustainable place to live,” she said.

Indeed, many New Yorkers are fans of the project. Barbara Brunner, a long-time composting participant, for example, said sheshe started dropping off her compost at the Chelsea location two years ago after she noticed the composting truck. “It’s very convenient for me because I live in the co-op a block away,” she said. “I think it is great that the city is doing this.”