World Ocean Day is June 8th! What began as a proposal at the 1992 Earth Summit has evolved into a globally observed, youth-led movement that culminates in over 2,000 events in over 140 countries every June. “On World Ocean Day, people everywhere can celebrate and take action for our shared ocean, which connects us all,” the official website states. Plus, with the help of countless free resources and toolkits, the World Ocean Foundation and Youth Advisory council make it easy for people to join in the global celebration, learn more about ocean conservation, and engage their neighbors in stewardship. But what does all of this have to do with composting? In a word: everything.
It is important, and increasingly crucial, to honor the interconnectedness of Earth’s natural cycles and ecosystems, especially given the impact that climate change has on our environment, wildlife, and human society. From rising rates of microplastics in rain and arctic ice to the ways in which land pollution affects our planet’s water—and, in turn, the safety and health of all living beings on Earth—the relationship between soils and the ocean is complex and we owe it to ourselves and the planet to ensure that the relationship is healthy and harmless. Put simply, in order to heal our planet we must view our world as a dynamic ecosystem made up of interdependent and inextricably linked systems.
A helpful way to illustrate these connections is to think about the relationship between New Yorkers and, what Riverkeeper refers to as, the sixth borough: the waters that surround us. New York City’s bridges and underwater tunnels remind us that we are navigating and living on islands even if the skyscrapers often block the waters from our view. Our care for and attention to the sixth borough mustn’t wait for or center times of emergency and disaster. While it is important to prepare for floods and sea level rise, emergencies that will worsen in levels of extremity as climate change continues, it is also important to acknowledge that our neighboring waters, and the animals and plants that call them home, are flowing every single day.
The Hudson River, for instance, is a tidal estuary “where salt water from the ocean combines with freshwater from northern tributaries,” Riverkeeper explains. “Because the Hudson River is a tidal estuary, meaning it ebbs and flows with the ocean tide, it supports a biologically rich environment, making it an important ecosystem for various species of aquatic life. For many key species, it provides critical habitats and essential spawning and breeding grounds.” Further, according to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, the Hudson River is one of the healthiest estuaries on the Atlantic Coast and “[serves] as valuable habitat for marine life while providing essential human services to coastal communities and the regional economy.” There are, of course, other local estuaries and waterways around and near New York City that we must protect.
In addition to protecting local river ecologies, addressing harms to ecosystems caused by decades of toxins entering waterways, and preventing sewage pollution, we must also protect soils and reduce waste inequities on the Land. By improving soil health and eliminating the conditions of possibility for pollution on our streets—that is transported into waterways by stormwater—and in our greenspaces we can reduce the amount of toxins that make it to the water. One way to help improve soil health is to expand access to organic nutrient cycling in the city, a project that would also reduce the amount of harmful emissions from landfills here and states that import our waste. Of course, I’m referring to equitably increasing access to composting.
Composting is the act of transforming organic matter from things like food scraps and yard materials into a nutrient-rich soil amendment via a human-controlled, microbe-operated decomposition process. There are small-scale composting operations, some of which are so small they only involve processing food scraps in people’s homes, and those responsible for processing the waste of entire neighborhoods or cities. Whatever its size and scale, every composting site diverts waste from landfills and regenerates vital resources that can be used to improve soil health whether the soil is in a backyard garden or city park.
Consequently, the improvement of soil health results in countless benefits that directly impact the health and safety of city residents while also managing stormwater runoff. Not to mention the long-term, large-scale benefits of carbon sequestration. Put simply, soil that lacks nutrients and microbial diversity is more prone to erosion, absorbing toxic chemicals, and losing the ability to grow food. The actions of some humans, from harmful land development practices to general lack of care of the Land, result in unhealthy and lifeless soil that, in turn, leads to decreased capacity for farming and food production as well as issues related to improper stormwater management, water conservation, and crop quality. In other words, when soil is healthy and home to extensive microbial diversity cities become more sustainable and the relationship between soils and waterways can start to truly heal. This is crucial in cities that are islands and have a complex relationship with multiple bodies of water.
While the focus of this piece was New York City, this is a global issue that impacts billions of lives. On World Ocean Day, take the time to learn more about Earth’s natural cycles, the relationship between soils and oceans, and the ways in which composting can play a vital role in plans for protecting and healing our planet. We are connected by oceans and connected to soils. We don’t have time to waste on our journey toward climate justice.
PLEASE NOTE: We ALWAYS recommend that businesses replace disposable products with reusable ones. Waste reduction is the best way to handle your waste, followed by recycling and composting. Is there a way for you to stop using straws altogether, rather than looking for a compostable straw? Or coffee cup? Or plate? That’s the goal. If not, we’re here to help find the best solution.
So what is a “Certified Compostable Product”? And is biodegradable the same as compostable? What is BPI? What is ASTM D6400? What?? We’d like to help clarify some of the confusion around Certified Compostable Products that you might find in your business’s waste stream and shed some light on the conversation in general.
Let’s start by introducing the concept “greenwashing”. This is when businesses develop products that are either “green” in color, or “green” because they have leaves printed on them, but the products are not actually environmentally sustainable, or the entire story isn’t being told. Be mindful of greenwashing where you live, work and consume. Below we describe products that are actually compostable and not just pretending to be.
Here are legitimate Compost Certifications you will find on Disposable Products:
These are the compost industry standards for products that are “ok to compost” in industrial facilities (more on this below). BPI is the most commonly used certification in the US, and the [[vert]] is the European standard. When compost facilities see these certifications, they know that the products should break down properly in their industrial-scale compost operations. ASTM D6400 is an industry standard that usually refers to compostable bags.
We wish it were simpler, but there is no specific brand or material type that we can point to and honestly claim: “anything made by these guys, or anything made from this, is compost friendly.” Unfortunately there is just no broad-brush approach. Our best advice is to look for the BPI Certified Compostable stamp/icon whenever you’re purchasing items that you expect to send to a compost site. Also, if you’re not sure whether your coffee cup or to-go container is compostable, try looking on the bottom or side for these icons.
Plant-based plastics, like PLA, (polylactic acid), are tricky. We’re not materials scientists, but here’s how it works. It is possible to make “plastic” out of plants, using the natural sugars found in plant cells. However, sometimes products say that they are “made with plant plastics”, but are still not “certified compostable”.
It can be cheaper to mix plant-based plastics and regular petrochemical plastics together to make a fork, than it is to use 100% plant-based plastic. Once you get different types of plastics mixing together, the compostability of the final product goes out the window. You might see a product that says it is “made with plant plastic”, but you need to read the fine print to see that it is only x% plant plastic, and the remainder is regular PET (polyethylene terephthalate) or HDPE (high-density polyethylene) or another type of other plastic.
The most difficult reality here, is that once you mix a normally recyclable plastic, like PET or HDPE, with a plant-based plastic, like PLA, it becomes nearly impossible to recycle that product. The market is now flooded with products that are either compostable or recyclable, and those frequently look identical to other items that are neither compostable or recyclable.
Some compostable products look like they’re made of paper pulp. That’s because they are! Many compostable bowls and plates are made out of waste materials from other industrial processes. Bagasse, for example, is a byproduct of the sugarcane industry, which is now being used as a value-added product in the compostable product market. We’re excited to see these packaging innovations continuing to pop up!
Many compost facilities are willing to accept paper-based Certified Compostable Products, because they break down faster than PLA. Fiber-based compostables can be less expensive than plant plastics, and they sometimes have a lower production footprint as well, because they can be made of waste products, rather than from virgin materials like corn.
In an industrial composting environment, fiber-based compostable products act a lot like a paper product or another dry plant material, absorbing liquid and breaking down over time among other organics.
So what is a business owner to do!?
Inform yourself (if you’re reading this, then you’re already on the right track!). If you work with a compost hauler, make sure to confirm that the compost site they partner with can accept Certified Compostable Products. As an alternative, use regular-old recyclable plastic and metal products instead. Aluminium, when rinsed, is one of the most recyclable materials, so you might be better off simply ensuring that your aluminium recyclables are making their way to the proper facility. And of course, investing in reusable materials whenever possible is the absolute most eco-friendly solution.
“Eliminating food waste” was the theme of the inaugural Zero Waste Food Conference, hosted by The New School and the Institute of Culinary Education. The purpose of the two-day event, held on April 28th & 29th 2017, was to “discover better methods for the way we produce, distribute, consume and dispose of food in the environments where we cook and where we eat.” Panel discussions covered topics such as sustainable kitchen design, uncovering fresh connections in the food chain, and repurposing kitchen “scraps” into delicious, sustainable meals. Cooking demonstrations addressed food innovations such as beer made from surplus bread, butchery that wastes not, and the art of preservation through fermentation lead by pickling experts. The schedule was jam-packed with illuminating discussions and wow-factor cooking demos, we can’t wait to see what they come up with next year!
As a Zero Waste event, it was important that the conference produce as little landfill waste as possible. Common Ground Compost was thrilled to provide waste management services throughout both days to help achieve that goal. In preparation for the event, our staff assessed the various event spaces and designated optimal waste station placement. We communicated with the building staff to ensure they understood the plan for the conference, which included stationing volunteers at each waste station, to be sure that waste separation tips could easily be communicated to event attendees. Supervision at waste stations can be one of the most effective tools to reduce contamination in the recycling streams, and as was the case at the Zero Waste Food conference, the volunteers provided the added bonus of educating participants in responsible waste management in NYC. CGC provided waste stations and color-coded signage where needed, and had representatives present to prevent contamination and track the various waste streams. At the end of the day at each venue, we weighed every bag of waste and categorized it as either compost, recycling, mixed paper, or trash. Take a look at the waste characterization from the event, especially the high proportion of compostable waste!
We had such a blast contributing our services to this conference. We had great discussions with many curious participants about responsible recycling practices and even learned a thing or two about sustainable cooking!
If you are hosting an event of any kind and need waste management help, please reach out. We can’t wait to hear from you!
You may have read the title of this post and thought: “Everyone knows how to recycle, do I really need to put up signs?” Yes you do! It’s very, very important, and it’s the law!. Most people know, or think they know, the basics of recycling, but when they are standing in front of three or more bins with a variety of waste products they are suddenly afflicted with trash-amnesia (not a real thing), or they’re skeptical that the location even recycles. TAKE THE GUESS WORK OUT OF IT. Recycling can be complicated, so confusion is understandable, but it should be 100% clear that your business does in fact recycle, and signs will make it clear! This assurance will motivate employees and customers to take the extra moment to sort their trash accurately, helping eliminate contamination of the recycling stream.
Waste stream contamination is one of the biggest problems in the recycling industry, and this problem can cripple the economics of recycling. Sorting mass amounts of recycling later in the process is time-consuming, costly, and detrimental — getting it right at the source is key, and that’s where you come in. Recycle Across America is a nonprofit devoted to solving this exact problem and their simple solution is, you guessed it, labels! (Another word for signage). We agree.
In order to get your employees and customers recycling properly, we cannot stress enough the importance of having accurately colored bins and clear signage. The standard in America is to have two blue bins (one for mixed paper and another for glass, cans and plastic), a green bin for compost, and a black bin for landfill. Color coding your receptacles is the first step, but including clear signage is even more important, and clearly labeled bins are the law in NYC, as of August 1st 2017! Ideally, post multiple signs on each bin so they are visible from the front and the top. Successful signage clearly states the type of waste to be disposed of and provides multiple examples of items that belong in each bin, using pictures.
If you work in a food establishment, consider the exact type of waste that your customers and employees will be sorting and address those in your signage. If you only have one sign or label, it’s best to put it on the top of (or on the wall just above) the bin to ensure that folks know what to do when they are standing over it. Always keep your receptacles arranged in the same order too, to avoid confusion.
These simple steps can make a real difference in your ability to recycle effectively. We’ve mentioned this before, but employees prefer to work for companies that display a sense of awareness and responsibility for the world. Similarly, customers like to support socially responsible businesses. So be a responsible recycler! For the sake of your business and the sake of our planet.
If you want a consultation about responsible recycling in your space, give us a shout! We will gladly perform a waste audit, suggest optimal receptacle placement, provide customized and laminated signage, and train your employees to be recycling experts.
The word “organic” means anything relating to or derived from living matter. All organic material can be composted, but not always by the same process. Animal bones and wilted lettuce compost under the right conditions, but different microorganisms are needed to do the work, and will finish the task on different timelines. Because there are many different processes for breaking down organic material, different sites and haulers accept slightly varying materials. Typically, if you are dropping food scraps at a collection point in NYC the following items are not acceptable: meat, bones, fish, dairy, fats/oils, and Certified Compostable Products. If your organics are being collected curbside or by a private hauler, a wider variety of materials, included those just listed, are generally accepted.
GrowNYC Greenmarket, Commuter Drop-Off, & Community Garden Programs
NYC Curbside Collection
NYC’s commercial recycling laws are hard to keep up with and key information is often difficult to find. Don’t stress! We’ll help you stay up to date and in compliance.
The most recent official notice regarding commercial recycling rules in NYC was released by the NYC Department of Sanitation on February 5, 2016. Link to the official notice here. The rules outlined within were put into effect on August 1, 2016 and, after a year-long “warning period”, will be enforceable by law starting August 1, 2017.
Recycling compliance 101: Follow these tips and you’ll be well on your way to recycling responsibly and in compliance with the law.
Wait, can I recycle this?
There are two different recycling streams in NYC:
*If plastic wrap, (clear plastic film, like the Saran Wrap brand), is clean and dry, it CAN be recycled, but sometimes it must be collected separately from other recyclables. If your business produces lots of clean and dry wrap, we recommend that you contact your hauling company to discuss options for recycling it.
A couple extra things to note regarding…
There are the three acceptable recycling systems for most* businesses:
*For businesses that produce +10% of their waste in textiles, yard waste, or organics, additional procedures are required.
In ALL cases, it is illegal for a hauling company to collect recyclable waste in the same truck as trash. If you see black trash bags in the same truck as clear or colored recycling bags, red flag! Something is amiss. (It’s true that trucks break down, or sometimes there’s a one-off collection that doesn’t go as planned, but if you see this consistently, you should give us a call.)
Why are there so many options? Does it really have to be this complicated? The main source of complication lies in the fact that recycling facilities and hauling companies are typically separate entities. Sometimes a recycling facility will have their own hauling operation, which results in better communication from source to plant and more accountability on the side of the haulers. Regardless, the City is moving towards a single-stream system, so in time, we’ll be seeing more “mixed recycling” and less “source separated recycling”, leaving the complicated stuff to the experts. Until then, the consumer still has to put in the leg work to ensure that their recycling is being properly processed. (Interested in seeing a dedicated post on Single-Stream Recycling, or anything else? Contact us!)
Consider this scenario: a business is set up with source-separated recycling, but they aren’t properly separating their recyclables into two different streams (mixed paper / plastic, metal, glass). Their mixed paper hauler picks up what looks to them like the mixed paper recycling bags and brings them to a recycling plant that processes mixed paper. That plant, which might not have the sorting technology to deal with glass, metal, and plastic, has to manually sort through these bags and might treat anything that’s not mixed paper as trash. In this scenario, more work has been created for the facility (or the hauler, depending on the relationship that exists between hauler and recycling facility), to sort the unacceptable items (an economic hardship), and many perfectly recyclable products might go to the landfill.
We have some good news, which is that new recycling facilities are putting specialized technology in place to separate lots of types of recyclables. We will be seeing more and more of these facilities in the future. For now, not all commercial hauling companies have relationships with these specialized facilities. The NYC Business Integrity Commission has a specific form for haulers to complete when they wish to collect Single Stream (mixed recycling) from commercial clients, which asks them to identify the destination (the specific recycling facility) for the recyclable materials. If you are unsure about your hauler’s Single Stream recycling process, the easiest thing to do is to ask if they have submitted this application to BIC.
Now get sorting!
NYC’s commercial composting laws are in place and being enforced. Never fear, we’ll help you stay up to date and in compliance!
The most recent official notice regarding commercial organics rules was released on January 19, 2016. Link to the official notice here. The rules were put into effect on July 19, 2016 and were made enforceable by law on January 19, 2017. These rules are outlined below for your convenience.
What types of businesses are required by NYC law to separate their organic waste?
For these businesses, what types of organics must be separated?
How to comply and avoid violations:
TAGS: Hauling, Signage, Sustainability, Food Waste, Composting, Commercial Composting, DSNY, Laws, Regulations, Compliance, Waste Audit, Organic Waste
Whether you work in a shared office space with a foosball table, a fancy corporate headquarters with a skyline view, a hot new restaurant, a late-night music venue, or a boutique cafe prizing latte art, you and your coworkers produce a variety of “waste”. Dealing with that waste is complicated, no doubt about it, and while environmentally responsible waste management isn’t always the easiest thing, it doesn’t have to be too difficult either. So whether you own a business, or work somewhere that could use a second look at its waste management policies, we’ve outlined some information below to help ease you into an environmentally sustainable operation.
In 2016 the NYC Department of Sanitation (DSNY) released an Official Notice that outlines new recycling requirements for businesses. These will be enforceable by law starting August 2017. Additionally, as of July 19, 2016, certain large food waste generators in NYC are required by law to separate their organics. Official Notice here. The organics law applies if you are:
For more information on the regulations, we’ve written a POST for you!
If none of the above apply to you, but you want to compost your organic waste anyway, we applaud you! Here are some compelling reasons to justify this change to your employees, to convince your boss, or just to brag…
Now armed with five reasons to compost, how do you actually go about putting your fantastic idea into action? The easiest thing to do would be to call or email your friends at Common Ground Compost so we can evaluate your business and help you implement a new system that fits seamlessly with your current operation. But if you’re a DIY’er (much respect), here are some steps you can take…
FIRST: How are you going to dispose of your organic waste?
a.) Hire a private hauler for multiple waste streams, including food waste. It’s
a good idea to get multiple quotes to find the best price. HERE is a list of vendors as of 2015 to get you started. We recommend asking about the programs a potential hauler provides and confirming they work with your type of business.
b.) Hire a micro-hauler (for organic waste only). The following organizations work in NYC and, for a small fee, will pick up your organics and process them locally.
c.) Self-transport. Most NYC businesses will not elect to self-transport organic waste to a processing facility, but if you do, you must register with the NYC Business Integrity
d.) Process on site. For most NYC businesses, processing organic waste on site
will not be possible. However if you are able and choose to do so, you must register
with the DSNY within 30 days of installing on-site processing equipment – check out our post on commercial compost regulations, or contact us to discuss!
SECOND: Depending on who will be processing your organic waste, make sure you know the rules for what can and cannot be composted. This can vary greatly depending on whether your hauler uses an aerobic or anaerobic process, or whether they are a massive facility or a local organization. This is especially true when it comes to dairy and meat products. We can help by contacting your hauling company and/or speaking directly to the compost facility.
THIRD: Educate your employees or fellow co-workers. Find out who on staff is particularly excited to be composting and see if they are interested in managing the process. Make sure your new waste management system is clear enough for a baby to understand. Color coded bins and signs can be really helpful here. We love signage.
FOURTH: Shout it out, loud and proud! Let all customers and visitors know how to dispose of their waste effectively. Make it known that you’re a business that cares about the environment. Post it on your website! Put a sign in the window. No one will chide you for gloating about your waste stream mastery, quite the contrary.
AND IF THAT SEEMS LIKE A LOT OF WORK…
What with all the other responsibilities you have at your job… call us! That’s why we’re here. We’ll come to your place of business (our first site visit is complimentary), and we can perform a waste audit. Next, we’ll contact your existing haulers to make sure you’re getting the best deal on all of your waste streams. If you’re not, we’ll help you get the best bang for your buck. During that initial site visit, we will walk through your business to understand your current layout, and can work with you to determine a seamless waste strategy, educate your employees, set up the necessary infrastructure, and be available to you for any hiccups or questions that arise while you’re adapting. We even provide high fives, free of charge! We love high-fives almost as much as we love composting.
You’ve heard whispers about New York City’s “Zero Waste” plan and noticed folks carrying those flashy orange totes around; you bumped into a brown organics collection bin in the lobby of your friend’s apartment in Brooklyn that you could swear wasn’t there before; or perhaps you’re just tired of tripping over mounds of garbage bags on the sidewalk and wondering “will anyone put an end to this?!”. Whatever the reason, you’ve decided to start managing your waste more responsibly. That’s an awesome idea! You’ve come to the right place to get educated.
Let’s start with the facts: NYC collects over 3 million tons of trash and recycling every year from residents alone – when combined with commercial, construction, and demolition waste that’s a whopping 14 million tons annually. Yikes. Moreover, NYC’s residential recycling rate is at a measly 15% when in fact over 30% of our waste can be recycled curbside, another 30% can be composted, and a final 10% can be reused or donated! So let’s talk about what to do with that 30% of organic waste. That’s why you’re here after all, right?
Let’s tackle the “I-can’t-compost-because” myths:
I don’t have a backyard.
Ok but there’s no convenient way for me to get rid of it!
Have you looked into these options?
I don’t understand what constitutes organic waste.
We understand, it can get a little complicated!
My roommates won’t be happy if I smell up the apartment with rotting food scraps.
Keeping your organic waste out of landfills benefits you, your roommates, your community, the environment, and future generations. Not only are you diverting waste from overflowing landfills, you’re also reducing harmful greenhouse gas emissions produced by rotting materials in landfills, contributing to the production of high-quality fertilizer for local use, and helping create a renewable energy source (biogas from methane at anaerobic digestion facilities). We dare you to give us a reason not to compost!
For more information about the movement towards creating a sustainable NYC, check out The OneNYC Plan (pg. 166) to reduce landfill waste by 90% by 2030 and lower greenhouse gas emissions 80% by 2050. Waste reduction is a really big deal, and incorporating responsible waste management routines, such as composting, into your daily life requires minimal effort. We are touched that you came to us to learn how to be an urban composter, welcome to the club!