Out of sight, Out of Mind
While New York City’s recycling statistics may leave much to be admired, the city’s growing green initiatives are at least showing a measured amount of progress.
For the most part, the right systems are in place to make recycling fairly easy to do. And why wouldn’t we? If the Crying Indian has taught us anything, it’s that recycling is the very least we can do.
According to the folks at the Western Queens Compost Initiative (WQCI), however, recycling alone might not be enough. As Leanne Spaulding, co-founder of the WQCI, points outs, food waste accounts for nearly 17 percent of the garbage that winds up in New York State landfills. To put this into perspective, the five boroughs combined to ship out enough refuse to despoil 140 acres of virgin land per year. This means food byproducts alone are responsible for nearly 24 of these acres.
What’s worse, it turns out that even biodegradable products can become hazardous when exposed to certain conditions. When organic matter is trapped in a landfill, its decomposition rate slows to a crawl. The subsequent putrefaction process would require a PhD. in organic chemistry to accurately describe, but when it’s all said and done, even biodegradable castoffs like banana peels and orange rinds eventually brew into a potently noxious gas.
“The methane created in a landfill is 27 times more potent than carbon-dioxide when it comes to punching holes through the ozone layer,” said Stephanos Koullias of the WQCI. “It’s pretty strong stuff.”
By contrast, when organic matter is separated from other material, it actually feeds the Earth, breaking itself down into a particularly effective fertilizer. This isn’t a modern revelation; the art of composting dates back to the Roman Empire, when farmers would leave giant piles of misspent produce to decompose in the sun, ultimately creating fertilizer for use during the next harvest. These heaps of dead crops would then feed the next year’s crops, and then the next, and so on.
Fast-forward 2000 years and the WQCI hopes to keep this timeless cycle in motion.
“Providing compost to WQCI means building clean, healthy, organic soils for community gardens and urban farms,” Spaulding said. “By participating in composting, you become a direct steward of the soil, and soil stewardship is of great importance to gardeners and farmers – seeing as soil currently erodes at a pace faster than nature can replenish.”
If you are interested in composting with the WQCI, the organization collects at a number of western Queens’ Greenmarkets (times and locations listed below).
Jackson Heights Greenmarket: Sundays 9am-12noon
Socrates Sculpture Park Greenmarket: Saturdays 9am-12noon
Sunnyside Greenmarket: Saturdays 9am-12noon
Steinway Library: Tuesdays 4pm-5pm