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Go Green with Grand Army Plaza's New Composting

A steady stream of residents are already using program designed to make it easier to recycle kitchen scraps.

Thousands of New Yorkers walk away from the city's greenmarkets every Saturday toting bags laden with fruit, greens and grains.

Now, thanks to a new composting project by GrowNYC, many can return a week later to drop off the pungent leftovers.

On Saturday, a nearly nonstop stream of locals perusing the Grand Army Plaza greenmarket paused to deposit scraps of edibles at the market's new compost drop-off site, one of seven such facilities in Brooklyn and Manhattan.

The new drop-off sites, a pilot program that will run through June 25, are the result of more than a year's worth of planning by GrowNYC. If the program is successful, GrowNYCwill make the pilot program at Grand Army Plaza and the three other Brooklyn pilot sites permanent.

"For years at our markets, customers would show up and have a list of 500 names," of people who wanted a place to compost, GrowNYC spokeswoman Liz Carollo said. But such a project takes an enormous amount of time and effort, she explained.

"We had to hire a lot of new staff, buy a lot of materials, find storage for all those materials, figure out how to collect and set up the [collection] route. It took a long time." And then there's the problem of funding: For years, GrowNYC did not have the budget to devote any funds to composting.

But when New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn's Foodworks came out, and the fifth goal was post-consumer waste management, the councilmember got behind the project idea. The group estimates organic refuse makes up 17 percent of the city's total waste stream.

So far, the compost program is a hit. At Grand Army Plaza the traffic was steadily increasing.

"It's reduced our garbage by a third," said Matt Holman, a 29-year-old music educator from Prospect Heights. "I have to take out the trash less frequently. We put it in the freezer and drop it off here weekly."

Already by 11:20 a.m. on Saturday, 11 bags were lined up at the drop-off point and the stream of composting residents seemed unlikely to slow. That's up from only seven bags of compost collected on the entire first day of operation, an organizer said.

The drop-off point is open the same hours of the market, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Stacey Petruzella, 37, an epidemiologist from Park Slope, said she had tried to keep a compost on her deck at home, "but it doesn't work with the cool weather." She now brings her waste to the greenmarket, and plans to do so regularly.

"Once you're into it, it's painful to see organics go into the landfill," she said. "Plus, it makes the garbage stink less."

At the Grand Army Plaza farmer's market, the GrowNYC compost truck collects the discarded material the same day and drives it to the 14-acre Peninsula LLC processing center in Wilmington, Delaware, where it starts the gradual process of biodegrading into fertile soil.

Carollo said plans were in the works to sell the end product of the composting as "Greenmarket Dirt" for home gardens to help the project become more economically sustainable.

"But there's an eight-week turnaround time for processing the food scraps, and in order to sell soil at the market we would need a facility where it was packaged and we need a vehicle to transport it to the markets. It's just in the very beginning stages," she said.

Meanwhile, the project is focusing on getting residents, such as Jenny and David Fay, of Park Slope, into the habit of dropping off their green waste. The Fays said they started composting because of the convenience of the greenmarket drop-off point.

"It's by far the easiest way," said David Fay. "This is the best for us. We just drop it off once a week."

ErnestPayne March 29, 2011 at 01:23 AM
Interesting. My city has two sizes of "green bins" for waste that goes into composting. Once a year, and for free, you can go to the site and recoup your waste in the form of soil. Does your area have anything like that?

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