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Getting rid of all the waste - Compost project aims to turn garbage into a sustainable resource

The Brooklyn Paper
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The North Brooklyn Compost Project is doing its part to reduce the vast quantity of garbage produced by New York City residents, something that disproportionally impacts North Brooklyn residents because of the area’s high concentration of waste-transfer facilities.

In the process, the four-year old group – which now numbers around 130 volunteers – is creating a valuable ecological product that enriches the soil, helps conserve water, and improves disease resistance in plants.

Each Saturday though Thanksgiving from 9 a.m. to noon, the group gathers near the Green Dome garden in McCarren Park (North 12th Street between Driggs and Union avenues), rescuing scraps of material from the garbage that will eventually be used as compost.

The average New York City household discards two pounds of organic waste each day, adding up to more than one million tons of organic material discarded by city residents each year. If it is composted, this material becomes a resource. But if it is not, it adds to the millions of tons of garbage that eventually meet the incinerator, taking environmentally deleterious truck trips through areas like North Brooklyn to get there.

“This neighborhood is a place where the benefits of waste reduction can be felt locally,” said Kate Zidar, the project’s founder.

The subject of waste reduction and environmental ethics has long been near and dear to Zidar’s heart: The 31-year-old is a native of Pittsburgh, Pa., a state that imports more garbage than any other. The state that exports the most garbage? New York.

Along with its environmental benefits, Zidar thinks the project is a good fit for North Brooklyn because it marries the area’s older immigrant generation, many of whom took their old-country gardening hobby to their new country, with the new, eco-friendly demographic moving in.

“The pre-gentrified North Brooklyn is really in touch with the land. In the Italian part of Williamsburg, you’ll see people growing tomatoes and Italian peppers on their rooftop. And all the newcomers seem to be interested in sustainable living,” she said.

Last Saturday, Zidar hosted a composting workshop in McCarren Park, teaching around 20 people how to compost in their homes. All it takes is some newspaper scraps, a plastic bin, and a supply of red wiggler worms, which rapidly eat kitchen scraps and transform them into useful fertilizer.

Aja Marsh, a Greenpoint resident who attended the workshop, appreciated the local efforts of Zidar and others, but said, “This is something that needs to be on a more citywide scale.”

A chef who has worked in many restaurants in the city, Marsh lamented the lack of organized, large-scale mechanisms for dealing with organic scraps.

“I don’t understand why it isn’t more of an issue. We have 8 million people making copious amounts of trash in this city,” she said.

Recently, the Department of Sanitation slashed funding for the citywide New York City Compost Project. It also cancelled autumn “leaf-litter” pick-ups, so that leaves will now be collected with regular garbage and be trucked through areas like North Brooklyn. In the past, these leaves were taken to three special compost sites, which lessened North Brooklyn’s waste transfer burden.

The decision did not sit well with Zidar, who characterized the wholesale lopping off of composting monies as tantamount to “using a hatchet and not a scalpel.”

“In this era where we’re starting to become a sustainable city, the matter of sustainable waste has gotten overlooked,” she said.

***

Compost can be thought of as basically a mixture of six ingredients: nitrogen, carbon, oxygen, bacteria, high temperatures, and water. It breaks down into “greens” such as uncooked fruit and vegetables, potato peels, fruit cores and coffee grounds; and “browns” like breads, grains, and eggshells.

Those are the “Dos.” The “Do Nots” include meat or bones, fish, dairy products, fats, oils, or grease, and any cooked foot. Those interested in composting are encouraged to check out widely available literature on the subject, or go to www.northbrooklyncompostproject.wordpress.com. They can also call the Lower East Side Ecology Center’s hotline – aka, the “Rot Line” – at 212-477-3155.

Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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