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NY Composting Initiative May Dump New Requirements on Local Restaurants

The New York City Sanitation Department (DSNY) implements a city-wide composting program that collects residential food waste at drop-off sites in all five boroughs. The DSNY is now considering whether to require restaurants, hotels, and other food-related businesses to participate in the program. Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia plans to have a decision by July 1, 2015.

The current program, which began in 2012, has already run into problems. The Peninsula Composting Group’s Wilmington, Delaware, processing plant, one of few able to handle New York City’s highly contaminated (and not completely compostable) trash was closed in late 2014 due to a number of factors, including neighborhood complaints about the foul stench. The DSNY still sends compost to processing sites in Staten Island, Connecticut and upstate New York.  It is also endeavoring to sort out how to enforce a more organic (only) waste collection.

Participating schools and residents have contributed 6,700 tons of organic material from October 2014 to April 2015. Roughly 100,000 households, or about 3% of the city, currently participate, but Mayor de Blasio hopes to add another 33,000 households in 2015 and expand to every household by 2018. That translates to about 1 million tons of waste each year, or 900% more than is currently collected. The nine processing facilities in the region can only handle about 100,000 tons of food waste per year, collectively.

Andrew Rigie, of the NYC Hospitality Alliance, stated, “The restaurant industry is supportive of environmentally friendly practices, but we need to make sure any new requirements aren't operationally and cost prohibitive." He had thought the issue of processing capacity, or lack thereof, had already quashed plans to expand the residential program, and expressed surprise that the proposal to require restaurants to begin sorting organic and compostable waste for pickup is under consideration.

At this time, no proposed penalties have been forthcoming from the DSNY. Certainly, if the regulation is enacted, hospitality industry groups can be expected to explore avenues to challenge it, including in the courts.