From Ralph Lauren to Starbucks, hot yoga to Citarella, what’s trendy in New York City soon makes its way to the East End. Could composting be next?
The NYC Compost Project began in 1993 as a way to educate the public about the benefits of composting by providing workshops and how-to classes on different composting methods. Low-cost bins are available to city residents and the Department of Sanitation recently extended its pilot program to Park Slope. (It has already been active in Manhattan, Staten Island and the Bronx.) Like other residential and commercial trash, compost can be brought to the curb for pick-up on scheduled days.
While there’s no municipal trash pick-up services on the East End, there have been efforts in the past to promote composting as an environmentally friendly alternative to wet trash incineration.
In 1984, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) issued a “Closure of Active Solid Waste Landfills Enforcement Policy,” which sought to eliminate “existing unlawful landfills that are contaminating the environment…to encourage new, preferably regionalized, longterm comprehensive solid waste management programs, and to enhance implementation of the state’s declared policy to promote waste reduction and recycling.” (Source: DEE-8: Closure of Active Solid Waste Landfills Enforcement Policy)
Recycling is now ubiquitous, but 30 years ago it was still a concept unfamiliar to many parts of the United States. Dr. Barry Commoner, recognized as one of the founders of the modern environmental movement, worked with the East Hampton Town Board in the mid-80s to implement a recycling and composting pilot program. “As part of the  pilot study, Dr. Commoner’s team looked at the feasibility and costs of a full-scale recycling program for the town, and for other towns. They concluded that the Intensive Recycling System would work in all communities (towns and sections of large cities) where the housing is largely one- to four-family buildings and where residents are accustomed to…a drop-off system (such as in East Hampton).” (Source: Rachel’s Hazardous Waste News #108)
So what happened? Despite the 98% purity of the compost generated under the pilot program, the DEC designated the material as “hazardous” and would not sanction it for landscaping. It wasn’t until 10 years later, in 1998, that the composting plant in East Hampton became operational and the public could finally benefit from the material it produced.
Today, the town of East Hampton has no food waste composting program. Yard waste, such as leaves and brush, can be brought to the East Hampton Recycling Center. The facility turns it into mulch that is sold to commercial buyers for $115 per ton, while residents are allowed up to three 30-gallon containers per week at no charge.
Shelter Island has the most expansive recycling program of all the municipalities on the East End, though even they don’t compost food waste. The town recycling center has weekly STOP days (Stop Throwing Out Pollutants) when residents may dispose of hazardous household chemicals. While East Hampton and Southampton have closed their centers for reusable goods, Shelter Island maintains an area where residents can drop off items that someone else may find useful. You know what they say: One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.
Food and paper waste make up the largest portion of the solid waste stream. As composting gains traction on the national stage and is proven a viable means to handle such waste, will the East End soon step up its programs?