CRAINS: An alternative to the city’s costly composting mandate

From Crains New York:

By Brad Gerstman and David Schwartz – New York Association of Grocery Stores

Two years ago, then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg bequeathed to New York City a private-sector composting mandate. It has yet to be implemented—and with good reason. The region lacks capacity to compost millions more pounds of organic waste.

But if that capacity increases and the composting law takes effect, the mandatory separation of wet waste by the city’s supermarkets, green grocers, bodegas and restaurants would be an expensive logistical nightmare that adds significantly to the regulatory burden on these businesses and erodes the city’s generally promising efforts to promote supermarkets.

Mayor Bill de Blasio has initiated some important regulatory reforms that have significantly reduced the burdens on the city’s small businesses. Requiring neighborhood food stores and restaurants to compost wet waste would undermine the positive momentum that the mayor has generated.

Ironically, the transportation and storage of organic garbage poses a greater environmental hazard than the supposed benefits of an elaborate private-sector composting mandate. It would compromise the sanitation of area food establishments, and the trucking of waste long distances would add to the carbon footprint that prompts environmentalists to bring out the worry beads.

It is no accident that the city of Philadelphia requires food stores to install a commercial food-waste disposer before issuing any dumpster permit. But in New York City, people claiming the mantle of environmentalism have been actively opposing commercial food-waste disposers for more than a decade—claiming it is feasible and desirable to force neighborhood businesses to source-separate and pay to haul the wet waste long distances to a composting facility.

In 2005 a City Council bill was introduced to create a pilot program for supermarkets and restaurants to install commercial food-waste disposers. The bill garnered 33 sponsors but was opposed by then-Speaker Christine Quinn and Mr. Bloomberg.

The two leaders then colluded to initiate a “study” by the Department of Environmental Protection that questioned the feasibility of disposers in the city. Given the DEP’s publicly expressed hostility to the devices, it made no sense to give it carte blanche. No one was surprised when the agency—without considering the impact on local business—determined that the risks of disposer use far outweighed the benefits.

When government officials with a predetermined idea commission a study, the results are predictable. It made no difference that commercial disposers are being safely and economically utilized by municipalities all over the world.

The disposal of organic waste is a significant problem in New York City’s commercial and residential sectors. Trying to solve the problem by employing outdated 20th century methodologies will simply not work, and has the potential to create unnecessary burdens on the already struggling food businesses of this city.

It is time to take a fresh look at food-waste disposers, which could eliminate more than 90% of all the garbage currently being disposed of at our local food businesses. Once organic waste is separated and sent through the sewer system, almost all of the other garbage is easily recyclable.

The use of disposers will also cut the cost of garbage removal for these businesses by more than half, while reducing truck traffic and the unsanitary storage of putrescible waste in our neighborhoods. In addition, all of the waste processed through the city’s wastewater treatment facilities is easily transformed into the very compostable material that is the goal of environmentalists.

Disposing of organic waste is a challenge, but staying hidebound and unimaginative is not something we should expect from a city that produces some of the nation’s best scientific minds. Let’s try a pilot program for food-waste disposers and finally produce the data that we believe will show the benefits far outweigh any of the environmental costs that are alleged by opponents of this promising methodology.

Brad Gerstman and David Schwartz are the founders of the New York Association of Grocery Stores.

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