Compost reap

Composting and city living may seem mutually exclusive, but pros explain how to do it right.

Illustration: Brett Affrunti

As an environmentally aware citizen of Earth, you may have started to notice how much trash you single-handedly create. According to the Department of Sanitation website, New York City collectively throws out about 11,500 tons of garbage every day, and about 40 percent could have been composted, avoiding the emission of eco-warming greenhouse gases. This waste—which excludes anything fatty or animal-related like dairy, meat, bones and Rover’s droppings—can be processed into nutritious, beneficial soil to be put back into the ground. But can we city dwellers, with our limited space and a seemingly open invitation for roaches, compost without feeling like garbage-toting hobos?

Yes, and you’ll do a world of good. “Composting isn’t the first thing you think of when it comes to climate change, but it’s really connected,” says Carey Pulverman, project manager at Lower East Side Ecology Center (LESEC), a facility that offers a waste-collection service. It makes more sense in these lean times too: Less waste output means less tax money spent trucking it out of the city. At right, determine what you can do and what tools you need, according to your level of commitment.

Commitment level:


(You’re willing to do your part as long as you don’t start smelling like it.)

What to do: Collect food scraps in a tight-lidded Tupperware bin and freeze it until you can get to a drop-off site (see below). “Freezing keeps the scraps from rotting—so no smells, no pests,” says Ben Jervey, editor of No freezer space? The three-quart RSVP ceramic compost keeper ($33 at Green Depot, 222 Bowery St between Prince and Spring Sts; 212-226-0444, takes up little space and has an odor-screening charcoal filter. Use BioBags ($5 for 25 three-gallon bags, at Whole Foods, as liners: unlike plastic bags, these biodegrade and are compostable.

Commitment level:


(You’re hoping your heap impresses Daryl Hannah.)

What to do: Consider indoor composting with a worm bin. “As long as you don’t overfill your bin and have enough dry material, the bin should be a self-regulating compost factory,” says Pulverman. The compost stand at Union Square Greenmarket sells the red wiggler worms for $22 a pound; $55 for a bin and the worms. Attend a free workshop (registration required: 212-477-3155, and get a $15-off coupon for the set. If you squirm at the thought of handling live creatures, invest in NatureMill Plus Edition Composter ($299, at, which breaks down up to 120 pounds of food scraps per month and churns out new compost every two weeks.

Commitment level:


(“Leave me alone, Daryl Hannah, I’ve got composting to do.”)

What to do: There are many outdoor compost bins on the market, but New Yorkers may fare best with one that looks like a metal garbage can with holes ($20, at—it’s completely rat-proof. Add a mixture of equal parts dry “browns” (dead leaves, branches, newspaper) and “greens” (food scraps), and cover it well with browns—this helps hide odor. (This will be the same type of mixture you add in the worm bin above.) Depending on how much you aerate the mixture (use a pitchfork or a compost crank), it can take anywhere from 3 to 12 months to yield ready-to-use compost.

Public drop-off sites
* Union Square Greenmarket composting stand, Union Square Park, 17th St at Broadway. Mon, Wed, Fri, Sat 8am--5pm.
* Lower East Side Ecology Center Garden, E 7th St between Aves B and C (enter on the north side of the street). Sun 8am--5pm, at other times, drop off through the opening at the gate.

Many community parks and gardens have compost programs. For Manhattan, the Compost GreenMap provides a detailed map of drop-off-friendly places on the island (, enter “Compost Manhattan” in the search field). Keep in mind that gardens’ rules vary; a membership may require volunteering (like with the North Brooklyn Compost Project at McCarren Park) or payment. For contact info, visit, where you can look up the garden by name or area.

For composting in the outer boroughs:
The Brooklyn Compost Project at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden (718-623-7290, and the Bronx Green-Up Project at the New York Botanical Garden (718-817-8026, run composting programs and classes.

Is it worm in here?
Learn how to successfully compost with an army of worms at the “Indoor Composting Workshop” at Sustainable NYC (139 Ave A between 8th and 9th Sts, 212-254-5400). Fri 17 5:30--7pm, free. Register at

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