New York City generates 1.8 million tons of commercial and residential organic waste. The Big Apple is facing this waste diversion problem head-on.
In 2012, then-mayor Michael Bloomberg committed to doubling the amount of waste the city recycles or composts. In December 2013, NYC passed its Commercial Organic Waste law (Local Law 146), which took effect July 1, 2015. This law mandated specific large-scale generators to arrange for the recycling of their organic materials or employ department-approved methods to process the material themselves. NYC’s Bureau of Waste Prevention, Reuse, and Recycling is responsible for enforcing the law.
This series of legislative actions are expected to have an impact that reaches well-beyond NYC’s five boroughs, as the country’s largest city sets an example on a national stage. Of particular interest will be the effect this law will have on the well-established community composting infrastructure that already exists in the city.
The 2012 waste characterization study estimated that organic waste composes about one-third of NYC’s commercial waste stream. Seeing the diversion of this fraction as an opportunity to significantly reduce the volume of the NYC’s waste stream, the City Council passed its 2013 commercial organic waste law (Local Law 146 is now codified as §16-306.1). The new law used the same definition for organic waste as found in §16-303 of the New York City Administrative Code, with the exception that organic waste to be recovered is not “food that is donated to a third party, food that is sold to farmers for feedstock, and meat by-products that are sold to a rendering company.”
Organic waste is defined in the New York City Administrative Code as follows:
“Organic waste” means any material found in the waste stream that can be broken down into, or otherwise become part of, usable compost, such as food scraps, soiled paper, and plant trimmings. As determined by the commissioner, such term may also include disposable plastic food service ware and bags that meet the ASTM International standard specifications for compostable plastics, but shall not include liquids and textiles
Chart from NYC Dept. of Sanitation’s 2014-2015 Biennial Report
Sufficient Capacity Clause
Under Local Law 146, the Commissioner of the NYC Department of Sanitation will determine on an annual basis whether there is sufficient capacity within a one hundred mile radius of the city to process the organic waste being generated. In addition, the Commissioner will determine whether the cost of processing organic waste is competitive with the cost of disposing of organic waste by landfill or incineration. As organic waste processing capacity increases within the region, the Commissioner is able to phase-in the requirement of an increasing number of commercial enterprises to source separate their organic waste.
The organic waste generators falling under the category of “covered establishments” are the following:
|Retail food stores:
|Food service establishments:
Note: all references to square feet refers to floor area.
Each designated “covered establishment” entity will be required to arrange for one of the following options:
1) Ensure collection by a private carter of all source-separated organic waste generated for composting, aerobic or anaerobic digestion, or other department approved processing methods
2) Transport their own organic waste to a facility for composting, aerobic or anaerobic digestion, or other department approved processing methods
3) Provide organics processing on-site via in-vessel composting, aerobic or anaerobic digestion, or other department approved processing methods
In conjunction with these options, establishments are required to:
- Provide separate bins for the disposal of organic waste
- Post instructions on the proper separation of organic waste
- Post a prominently displayed sign near the premises’ main entrance which clearly states the business name, address, and telephone number (this clause does not apply to sponsors of temporary public events)
- That sign must also state whether the establishment provides for on-site processing, or state the day and time the organic waste is either picked up by a private carter or otherwise transported by the establishment to a processing facility
Private carters will be required to deliver collected organic materials to either a transfer station or directly to a facility for composting, aerobic or anaerobic digestion, or other department approved processing. Transfer stations that accept source-separated organic materials will also be required to deliver or arrange for delivery of these materials to a facility for composting, aerobic or anaerobic digestion, or other department approved processing.
The provisions of NYC’s Commercial Organics law relating to private carters will be enforced by the NYC Business Integrity Commission. The provisions relating to covered establishments will be enforced by the NYC Sanitation Department, the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, and the NYC Department of Consumer Affairs.
After a twelve month warning period, any covered establishment, transfer station, or private carter that violates the Commercial Organics Law will be liable for a civil penalty recoverable in a civil action that may amount to $250-$1,000 per violation.
Commercial organics generators had until mid-2015 before the above requirements became effective, but a few pushed to the head of their class by participating in former Mayor Bloomberg’s Food Waste Challenge. The Mayor’s Food Waste Challenge invited New York City private sector groups to voluntarily participate in reducing the amount of food discarded by committing to a 50 percent food waste diversion goal. The Mayor’s Office of Recovery and Resiliency reported that in the first six months after the launch of the challenge, the program resulted in an immediate reduction of 2,500 tons of food waste.
Outside of the Mayor’s challenge, the NYC Dept. of Sanitation launched an organics collection pilot program for residential collection in 2013. As of 2016, it has since expanded to serve several other neighborhoods across the metropolis. According to the Department’s 2014-2015 Report, the organics pilot program collected more than 100 tons of residential organics each week. This resulted in NYC Sanitation recovering a total of 15,000 tons of food scraps and yard waste from schools and residences over the course of these two fiscal years.
 Citizens Budget Commission of New York. “Can We Have Our Cake and Compost it too? An Analysis of Organic Waste Diversion in New York City.” February 2016 Report. [PDF]
 New York City Council. “A Local Law to amend the administrative code of the city of New York, in relation to commercial organic waste.” Local Law No. 2013/146. [link]
Original post from July 14, 2014
Updated May 20, 2016