Everything You Need To Know About Those Organic Waste Brown Bins

What is up with all these brown “organic waste” recycling bins in North Brooklyn? Doesn’t the city ask for enough with the paper, plastic, and metal recycling? Why are they trying to make us do this, too? Won’t it cause vermin problems? I’ve heard these questions and so many more over the past few years as New York City began the food scrap and yard waste recycling phase of its Zero Waste plan. No, it’s not required to separate your food scraps (yet) though there are multiple chic products to help you. Just know that there are flyover states more environmentally conscious than us.

Why yes, I have been eating a lot of eggs lately.

First, let’s talk about climate change. Scientists have proven multiple times that our Earth is rapidly going through climate change. It’s a fact and it’s not going to be good for humankind. One major contributor is methane gas. It causes more damage than carbon dioxide; some estimate methane is 84 times more potent. A lot of the methane that enters the atmosphere comes from the oil and gas industry, but a good percentage comes from food waste rotting away in landfills. When your waste goes to landfills, it doesn’t rot nicely into compost or soil, it just sits there festering and polluting the surrounding area. Don’t believe me? Look at Fresh Kills in Staten Island. It’s going to take 30 years before the park will safe for the public, and that’s with cleanup help.

Landfills are also EXPENSIVE. Last year alone, it cost New York City $351 million to ship our garbage out of state, and that amount is only going to rise. Landfills are so costly that San Francisco and Seattle both require food waste recycling simply to lower that part of their budget, not because they’re crunchy granola types. What’s one way to keep our taxes lower, create “black gold” soil that can mitigate climate change, produce some clean energy, and maybe make life on Earth a little more bearable for your children? Recycling your food scraps and yard waste. The sewer sludge inside those beautiful steel digester eggs at Newtown Creak Wastewater Treatment Plant has already being mixed with our food scraps to heat your homes and make electricity and you didn’t even know it.

Of course the MOMA sells a gorgeous compost bucket. Look at that bamboo handle.  Image: MOMA store

Now, how to participate without stinking up your house and attracting vermin? I’ve been composting for years (prior to the brown bins I would dutifully walk my waste to the McCarren Park Greenmarket which you can still do on Saturdays) and I’ve never had a problem with stink if I keep my scraps in the freezer. Right now, there’s this compost bin made for your freezer door that’s currently $11 on Amazon, or you can go high-end with a beautifully designed OXO bin, or you can keep it in a plastic bag like I do. If you don’t have space in the freezer, you’ll want to get something for your countertop with a charcoal filter as that will stop smells and pests. A small gallon size would be good for one or two people, I’ve eyed this sleek steel one for years and I wouldn’t say no to this MOMA one, but I’m lazy about buying filters for things. A whole family might need a designated garbage like this one to help keep everything separate, though they are decidedly less attractive across the board.

For the brown bin, you can get fancy compostable bag to use just as you would a garbage bag, but you can also use a brown paper bag, a clear plastic bag, or line your bin with newspaper. Lock it, and set it out for recycling. I’ve never noticed any vermin chewing through the brown bin looking for food as it tends to be much easier for them to chew through the garbage bags just laying there on the sidewalk, waiting to be hauled away.

And which flyover state is way more into this than New York is? That would be Iowa. Multiple cities there have successful food waste recycling programs, and Iowa City actually makes money off of the soil they end up selling.

About Siobhan Wallace

Siobhan Wallace is a freelance writer & editor. She co-founded the food blog Blondie & Brownie in 2008 and co-authored "New York à la Cart: Recipes and Stories from the Big Apple's Best Food Trucks" (Running Press, 2013).

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