Composting on the Chopping Block in Mayor Adams’s Budget

Rotten-tomato reviews were perhaps inevitable after Mayor Eric Adams proposed across-the-board 3 percent budget cuts, and some of the earliest and loudest are about actual decomposing vegetables.

Supporters of composting are furious over the plan to suspend the expansion of New York’s long-troubled program to recycle food scraps.

Mr. Adams promised during his campaign to expand curbside composting services to every city neighborhood, a goal predecessorBill de Blasio failed to reach. Methane from organic waste was “destroying our environment and speeding climate change,” Mr. de Blasio’s environmental platform stated, pledging to pay for the expansion through deals with private contractors.

But now, Mr. Adams wants to save $18.2 million in his first budget by halting the re-introduction and expansion of curbside compost pickup, which Mr. de Blasio had paused in 2020 to address budget strains at the start of the coronavirus pandemic. The compost cut would be less than 0.02 percent of the proposed $98.5 billion budget for the coming fiscal year. The plan projects the cuts would save $91 million over the next five years.

In his last months as mayor, Mr. de Blasio had restarted the program after a pandemic pause, but it was rolling out slowly. So far, the service has resumed in just five community-board districts in Brooklyn and two in Manhattan. Under Mr. Adams’s proposal, service there will continue, but only there, for now.

The move is the latest snag for a program that climate experts say is one of the easiest ways to reduce New York’s planet-warming emissions, in an area where successive mayors have sought to position the city as a leader. It comes just weeks after Rohit Aggarwala, Mr. Adams’s new chief climate officer, pledged that climate impact would be taken into account in every city decision.

Organic waste makes up 34 percent of the city’s residential garbage. Composting keeps it out of landfills, where it emits methane, a greenhouse gas that is far more potent than carbon. And just as important for a city with a growing rat problem, advocates say, separating food scraps and other organic waste into plastic bins reduces the attractiveness of the city’s garbage to rodents.

“The consequences of not equitably expanding the organics program are more rats ripping open our trash bags and thus more litter on our streets,” Sandy Nurse, a City Council member from Brooklyn who heads the sanitation committee, said in a statement. She called the cuts “a missed opportunity to address the climate crisis” that would cost the city more in the long run.

But on Thursday, Mr. Adams said the program was “broken,” with participation too low to justify the diesel fuel emissions and cost of sending trucks to areas where only 10 percent of residents are putting out compost.

Yet people who compost and supporters of the program — including the former Council speaker Corey Johnson, who had called for a citywide composting mandate — say that is a Catch-22. Many residents want to compost, supporters say, but the program is either not available in their districts or in their building. Owners of buildings with 10 units or more must approve the program for residents to participate.

A mandated citywide program is the best way to increase participation, advocates say, with a requirement that residents and businesses separate food scraps and yard waste from trash. New York’s recycling mandate, which began in 1989, spurred widespread separation of plastic, glass, metal and plastic waste. Estimates place the cost of mandated citywide composting, a distant goal for now, between $40 million and $251 million annually.

N.Y.C. Mayor Eric Adams’s New Administration

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Schools Chancellor: David Banks. The longtime New York City educator, who rose to prominence after creating a network of public all-boys schools, takes the lead at the nation’s largest public school system as it struggles to emerge from the pandemic.

Police Commissioner: Keechant Sewell. The Nassau County chief of detectives becomes New York City’s first female police commissioner, taking over the nation’s largest police force amid ​​a crisis of trust in American policing and a troubling rise in violence.

Commissioner of Correction Department: Louis Molina. ​​The former N.Y.P.D. officer, who was the chief of the Las Vegas public safety department, is tasked with leading the city’s embattled Correction Department and restoring order at the troubled Rikers Island jail complex.

Chief Counsel: Brendan McGuire. ​​After a stint as a partner in a law firm’s white-collar practice, the former federal prosecutor returns to the public sector to advise the mayor on legal matters involving City Hall, the executive staff and administrative matters.

Transportation Commissioner: Ydanis Rodriguez. ​​The Manhattan council member is a trusted ally of Mr. Adams. Mr. Rodriguez will face major challenges in his new role: In 2021, traffic deaths in the city soared to their highest level since 2013, partly due to speeding and reckless driving.

Health Commissioner: Dr. Ashwin Vasan. Dr. Dave A. Chokshi, the current commissioner, stays in the role to provide continuity to the city’s pandemic response. In mid-March, Dr. Vasan, the president of a mental health and public health charity, will take over.

Deputy mayors. ​​Mr. Adams announced five women as deputy mayors, including Lorraine Grillo as his top deputy. Philip Banks III, a former N.Y.P.D. chief who resigned while under federal investigation in 2014, later announced his own appointment as deputy mayor for public safety.

Executive director of mayoral security: Bernard Adams. Amid concerns of nepotism, Mayor Adams’s brother, who is a retired police sergeant, will oversee mayoral security after he was originally named as deputy police commissioner.

On Thursday, State Sen. Brad Hoylman sought to counter the mayor’s move, introducing a bill requiring the city to collect food scraps from every residence. During the mayoral campaign Mr. Adams told The City in a campaign questionnaire that he would enact such a mandate.

Even before the pandemic, the city was way behind on Mr. de Blasio’s plan to enact citywide composting by 2018, despite officials acknowledging that New York could not meet its zero-waste goals without it.

The lag is part of why, of the 3.1 million tons of garbage that New Yorkers produce each year, the city recycles less than 20 percent, well below other major cities like Seattle and San Francisco that have mandatory compost separation.

By 2020, before the pandemic and seven years after curbside compost pickup began in some neighborhoods, less than half of the city’s population had the option to request brown compost bins for pickup by the Sanitation Department. In the neighborhoods where bins were available, just 10 percent of residents used them.

When Mr. de Blasio suspended the program, Kathryn Garcia stepped down as sanitation commissioner, citing her disagreement over the cuts in her resignation letter (she later ran for mayor). Various private groups came online to help fill in the gaps in some neighborhoods. But they say they cannot replace the scale of a city program.

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