The city provided curbside compost collection bin. Photo: Nitin Mukul

In October, curbside composting became available to Queens residents, with brown bins appearing around the neighborhood. The program proved successful, with more than 12 million pounds of organic material diverted from landfills. Now, the program is on hiatus for the winter, leaving users frustrated. Epicenter’s co-founder and artistic director Nitin Mukul shares why.

  1. This past fall, the city did a great service to Queens residents by implementing curbside compost collection. A dedicated following of participants made it a success, then collection stopped abruptly for a period as long as the time it actually ran. This could trash the community’s faith in the city and cause some to abandon the practice as a result. Managing expectations matters.
The alternative to curbside collection. Photo: Nitin Mukul
  1. Millions of pounds of reusable waste was diverted from landfills while the program was operational. Clearly a lot of people who cared about this program are now feeling down in the dumps, because the pause substantially cancels out much of this progress.
  1. The city justifies this pause by claiming that there’s less yard waste generated at this time of year. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the bulk of all waste being put out is food scraps, not yard waste. In fact I’ve noticed that residential yard waste is typically bagged in unmarked black plastic bags and collected as regular trash. That’s something to adjust on our end. I actually gave clear bags to the landscapers who manage many yards on our block.
The struggle is real. Photo: Krishna Sreenivasan
  1. Another said benefit of the program is reducing the presence of vermin on the streets by having less food waste being left out. News flash: The rats don’t care about the lack of collectible leaves and grass. It’s likely they are scavenging harder than usual in the cold season. For a few months we walked confidently on our block, and now you could say we’re back to walking on eggshells.
Spillage. Photo: Nitin Mukul
  1. And here’s the lid on the bin: After winding up with my container chock full since the pause began after Christmas, I found that unlike the city program, the local drop off sites in Jackson Heights don’t accept scraps with any bones, meat or dairy products. So I had to seek out a “smart bin” which can be unlocked with an app. The closest one was a 20-minute drive to Astoria. Being a car owner, I drove the bin (which felt like it weighed at least 75 pounds) to the location, took my chances parking by a church and used the app to unlock a pull out door the size of a UPS drop box. Anticipating a mess, I went back to the car to grab some work gloves I had in the trunk. Ten minutes later and with the assistance of my friend I was able to guide the scraps into the bin. I was unable to avoid some drips and bits landing on the sidewalk and my shoes during the struggle. The rats were probably grateful for the spillage. I’m grateful for at least having this option, but it feels very prohibitive. The fruit peels of our labor deserve better.

Nitin is a visual designer, gallery artist, and community arts activist. Past desk-oriented posts include: PBS, Digitas, K12, Inc., Fox News, The Wall Street Journal and Sesame Workshop International....

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