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Major city passes surprising law over how residents deal with their trash: '[It's] going to take all of us'

"Its really going to be a test of our commitment."

New York City, Food scraps

Photo Credit: iStock

New York City's streets may soon actually be lined with cheese, or at least with bins full of cheese and other food scraps. The New York Times reported that its City Council passed a bill that will require residents to separate food waste from the rest of their trash. 

The mandate will start this fall and roll out by borough through 2024. Mayor Eric Adams has a similar program starting around the same time, with the main difference being that the Mayor's program is voluntary. 

City & State New York reported that Sandy Nurse, Councilmember and Sanitation Committee Chair, emphasized the importance of a mandatory program when she said a voluntary one "fails to reach the environmental impact that the current crisis moment demands."

The goal of the mandate is to both modernize and legalize New York City's trash practices and reduce the amount of organic waste sent to landfills. The City Council also moved to re-establish e-waste recycling and organics collection centers and to codify its goal to eliminate recyclables and organic matter from its trash stream by 2030.

According to The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), food waste is the most common material in landfills, accounting for 24%. When food in landfills rots, it emits methane, a toxic planet-warming gas that is 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide. 

The New York Times noted that according to a 2021 report, organic matter accounts for nearly half of the city's residential waste, making it the biggest chunk of solid waste that could be diverted from landfills. 

To further reduce methane pollution, some of the waste will be composted, but until a strong composting infrastructure is installed, much of it will be fed into anaerobic digesters where the methane is captured. 

Eric Goldstein, an environmentalist who has been pushing for the city-wide collection of organic waste for over a decade, told City Limits that "... by getting at least a substantial portion of the organics out of incinerators and landfills, the council is striking a blow for environmental justice and to right those historic wrongs." 

About the bill's passing, Councilmember Nurse told City Lights, "It's really going to be a test of our commitment to real climate action. And that's going to take all of us New Yorkers here in the city and across the state to really hold our government's feet to the fire on it."

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