Frequently Asked Questions About Organics
Organics? You mean compost? Maybe, but not always. Organic recycling is a hot-button issue in New York City. However, there is a lot of confusing or conflicting information passed around that complicates understanding and participating in organic recycling programs. Below are some clarifying points that should help you better understand what organic recycling, or "organics" is and how you can do it.
What is organic recycling?
Organic recycling sounds like it has to do with fancy foods, but that's not exactly true. "Organic" is used in a scientific sense here, meaning carbon-based and putrescible, or that that it will break down and rot. This includes all food (organically grown or not), yard waste, food soiled papers, and sometimes compostable plastics.
Why should we bother? Doesn't it just break down the same in a landfill?
Putrescible waste will break down in a landfill, but in doing so it will release methane, which is a greenhouse gas. In 2017, New York City's Department of Sanitation (DSNY) conducted a massive study of what New Yorkers throw out. What they learned was that approximately one third of all of New York City's waste is organic material that could be recycled. They also found that New York City produces more methane from landfilled organic waste than any other city in North America, Canada included. We can do better.
Doesn't composting organic material also create methane?
It does, but it creates less than landfilled waste, and it can also give us beneficial byproducts like compost. Sometimes, material will be taken to an anaerobic digester, where that methane will be collected as a natural gas offset and used to supplement the natural gas grid. In this case, less loose methane is the much better alternative.
Why don't you just call it compost?
This is a tricky question, and requires a quick lesson in terminology. "Organics" are the materials like food and yard waste that get recycled. "Composting" is a specific process for breaking down organic material, which ends in the finished product of compost, which is a nutrient soil amendment (and which is also different from dirt). The reason that not all organics programs are called compost programs is because organic material can also be brought to digesters, which can break the material down into a slurry, and which sometimes capture the methane they emit for use in green energy projects. So instead we call them "organic recycling programs", because they all recycle organic material.
What do we even need compost for?
We don't think of it often, but our soils are tiny ecosystems that we rely on. The very short version is that soil is comprised of an organic element that feeds plants, and an inorganic element that stabilizes the plants. As the plants eat the nutrients, they often don't get replenished appropriately, and so compost helps.
I bought compostable plates/cups/silverware/etc. but I don't have an organics program. Will they still break down?
Unfortunately they won't break down, and they're not recyclable as plastic either. If you don't have an organics program, these are garbage. You can read more about compostable plastics here.
I don't have an organics program, and my property won't host one, but I want to participate. What do I do?
Diverse will work with you to figure out what makes the best sense for you. Reach out and let us know!
I still have questions and I'm not even sure where to begin looking!
That's ok! This is just an overview, but you're in luck: Diverse Recycling Solutions, LLC's own Kenneth U. Richards is a certified Master Composter! Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll do our best to answer your questions and connect you with the resources you need.