Community Compost Program
We have provided NYC residents with free food waste drop-off programs and affordable compost products since 1990. Additionally, through the NYC Compost Project, we run Commuter Compost sites and provide educational programing in Manhattan. Together, these programs reduce the City’s waste stream, ensuring that organic materials are recycled locally.
Our community compost program began in 1990 at our community garden on East 7th Street, between Avenues B and C. We launched our drop-off at the Union Square Greenmarket in 1994, and GrowNYC has since expanded the greenmarket food scrap collection program city-wide. In 2004, we became a host site for the Department of Sanitation’s NYC Compost Project, with whom we collaborate on providing workshops and technical assistance, and since 2013, additional commuter compost drop-off locations in Chelsea and through the Lower East Side. Click here for compost drop-off locations and hours.
Composting in NYC
The Ecology Center collects and processes food waste locally in Manhattan. To participate in our work towards a more sustainable New York, separate your food scraps (no meat or dairy, please) from the rest of your trash and recycling, and bring them to one of our drop-off locations. These food scraps are then transported to our compost yard in East River Park, and processed in our in-vessel composting system. After three months, the finished compost makes its way back to the consumer, either as compost or as part of our potting soil mix.
|Accepted Materials||Unaccepted Materials|
|Fruits and vegetable scraps||Meat, fish, bones, shells|
|Coffee grounds, filters, and paper tea bags||Cheese or dairy products|
|Bread and grains||Fats, grease, or greasy foods|
|Eggshells and nutshells||Pet feces, litter or bedding|
|Stale beans, flour, and spices||Coal or charcoal|
|Cut or dried flowers||No metal, glass, or plastic (recycle it!)|
|Houseplants and potting soil||Diseased or insect infested plants|
We keep hundreds of tons of organic material from entering landfill, and introduce countless New Yorkers to the benefits of composting. To learn more, join one of our workshops exploring home composting and advanced composting technique and learn to reduce your carbon footprint by recycling your leaves, garden trimmings, and food waste. Upcoming workshops can be found on our calendar or you can call our compost hotline at (212) 477-3155.
Facts About Composting
Composting is the natural process of decomposition, in which organisms breakdown organic material until only the beneficial soil amendment remains. Composting is an important sustainable waste management technique that diverts food waste from the landfill, where the food would decay anaerobically (in the absence of oxygen), creating the greenhouse gas methane. The average New York City household tosses more than two pounds of food waste per day, amounting to over 3,000 tons of organic matter that must be trucked off to distant landfills daily.
Composting disrupts this inefficient system by reusing food waste, and simultaneously returning vital nutrients back into the earth to create healthy soil. As an end use in school gardens, street trees, and urban farms, compost helps “close the loop” for food waste recycling in New York City.
For more local resources, check out our resources page here.
Our In-Vessel Composting System
To process all the organic material collected through the Ecology Center’s Community Compost Program, we operate an ‘in-vessel’ compost system in East River Park, just south of the Williamsburg Bridge. The ‘in-vessel’ system is coupled with a curing stage to turn kitchen scraps into compost in about three months.
The ‘in-vessel’ system consists of sixteen one cubic yard-sized plastic containers. First, we fill a container with alternating layers of nitrogen-rich food waste, and our carbon source of high-grade sawdust, (another “waste-product” that we collect from various local wood shops). Once a container is filled, the lid is sealed and the decomposition process begins. The containers are designed to facilitate an ‘aerobic’ decomposition process, by allowing air to pass through vents on the bins. Over the first 10 -15 days, the materials in the bins are reduced to one fifth of their original volume, and reach pathogen-destroying temperatures of up to 150 degrees Fahrenheit.
The second step, or curing process, begins when we transfer materials from the ‘in-vessel’ containers into ‘windrows’, (long rows of organic matter). Inside our windrows, the responsibility of ‘curing’ the composting materials is handed over to red wiggler worms – at this stage, the material is cooling, and brimming with microorganisms that worms find delicious. As the worms feast on this bounty, they digest the partially composted materials together with microorganisms to produce worm castings, some of the most nutrient-rich, energy-packed plant food that exists.
The final step is to screen the material to create fine compost, without any rocks, sticks, or other unprocessed material (like fruit pits), and of course to separate out the worms, which are returned to feast on the windrows.