QUEENS — Residents in dozens of Queens neighborhoods — including Long Island City, Kew Gardens and Far Rockaway — will soon be able to dispose of their fruit and vegetable scraps just as easily as they recycle glass, metal, paper and plastic.
As the city’s Department of Sanitation is expanding its organic waste collection program this fall, locals in the areas covered by the initiative will soon see brown bins in their neighborhoods, which are used to collect organic waste that will be later turned into soil-enriching compost.
The program, which also collects food-soiled paper and yard waste, will be expanded in September to Auburndale, Bay Terrace, Beechhurst, College Point, Flushing, Linden Hill, Malba, Queensboro Hill, Whitestone, Willets Point, Briarwood, Flushing South, Fresh Meadows, Hillcrest, Holliswood, Jamaica Estates, Jamaica Hills, Kew Gardens Hills and Utopia.
Those residing in these neighborhoods will receive their brown bin in September, and collections will begin the week of Oct. 2.
The program will expand to other portions of Queens in October, including Long Island City, Sunnyside, Woodside, Ozone Park, Kew Gardens, Richmond Hill, Woodhaven, Breezy Point, Belle Harbor, Broad Channel, Neponsit, Arverne, Bayswater, Edgemere, Rockaway Park, Rockaway and Far Rockaway.
Residents in these neighborhoods will receive their brown bins in October, and collections will begin there the week of Oct. 30.
The program, which began as a pilot for 3,200 residents in the spring of 2013, seeks to reduce dependency on landfills while turning food scraps into compost or renewable energy, according to the Department of Sanitation's website.
The collection service is currently available to more than 2.5 million residents citywide, and the agency is working on expanding it to all New Yorkers by the end of 2018.
“Organic material — food scraps, food-soiled paper and yard waste — make up about a third of what we throw away, but it’s not trash,” said Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia in a statement.
“Putting your food scraps and yard waste to good use decreases the amount of garbage going to landfills and helps create a greener and healthier New York City,” she added.
Gil Lopez, a composting advocate and head of the Smiling Hogshead Ranch, an urban farm in Long Island City that runs a number of programs related to avoiding food waste, called the initiative "a really exciting program.”
"The very last thing we should do with our food waste is send it to a landfill," he said. "Composting is so much better than that."
The city’s brown bins make the process even easier for residents, he added, since they don’t have to lug their food scraps to designated drop-off sites. The bins also allow for the collection of materials that those drop-off sites don’t, including diary, bones and meat.
But Lopez notes that New York still lags behind when it comes to composting participation compared to cities such as San Francisco, where the practice is mandatory. The Sanitation Department instead relies on residents to voluntarily take part in diverting their food scraps, and many New Yorkers are hesitant to do so for a number of reasons.
"Because it is voluntary, and because there’s almost a stigma [attached] to composting in some places,” he explained, saying some people don’t want to do it because they’re worried about the food scraps smelling, while others assume it’s just too much of a hassle.
But Lopez says it doesn’t have to be.
Just as residents make room for recycling bins separate from their trash cans, they can usually find space for a container to hold their food scraps. He recommends storing it in the freezer until compost pickup day to avoid any bad smells.
"It can be really simple and easy," he said. "It doesn’t have to change your lifestyle at all, but it really can make a large effect on other people’s lives."
Here’s how the program works, according to the Department of Sanitation:
► All eligible households receive a starter kit consisting of an indoor kitchen container, instruction brochure and outdoor brown bin (either their own or a larger one to share for the building).
► All single-family homes and buildings with nine or fewer residential units are automatically enrolled in the voluntary program. Outreach crews with the Sanitation Department will deliver the brown bins and starter kits door-to-door in the participating areas (they will leave the items on the property line if residents aren't home, according to the agency.) Residential buildings with 10 or more units may also apply online to participate.
► Residents first place food scraps into their kitchen container, and later take them to their outdoor bin for the agency to collect on their pickup day.
► Organic waste is turned into compost and used by greening groups, such as urban farms and community gardens, to improve the city’s soil.
► Residents who do not currently participate in the curbside collection program can find food scrap drop-off sites throughout all five boroughs.