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Compost Giveback Program

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The DSNY Bureau of Waste Prevention, Reuse and Recycling (BWPRR) used to hold periodic Compost Givebacks, where NYC residents could get free compost made from the leaves collected by the NYC Department of Sanitation.

Compost Givebacks were generally held every spring and fall with NYC Compost Project staff and Master Composter volunteers on hand to answer compost-related questions and share advice.

compost giveback sites & operations
subsidized compost bins
dsny promotion
giveback stats
other dsny compost distribution programs

Compost Giveback Sites & Operations

BWPRR began distributing free compost to NYC residents in 1992 from the DSNY Fresh Kills leaf composting site in Staten Island. In 1993, BWPRR included Brooklyn Botanic Garden leaving NYCWasteLess as another (by appointment only) Giveback site. In 1994, the Staten Island Giveback location was moved to Staten Island Botanical Garden, (now part of Snug Harbor Cultural Center and Botanical Garden, leaving NYCWasteLess) and, in 1996, the Brooklyn Giveback site was moved to Prospect Park.

Compost Giveback locations changed again in 1999, with Compost Project staff securing different donated locations for the events in each borough. Givebacks were held in parks, parking lots, or other open spaces secured by Compost Project staff from 1999-2001. These locations had to be able to accommodate several hundred cubic yards of compost and hundreds of people. Compost Project staff strived to locate events in different parts of each borough so that the program would reach a wide audience, and targeted as many different NYC neighborhoods as possible. The program grew in popularity and boasted a diversity of attendants. The program was highly popular and boasted a diversity of attendants. A New York Times leaving NYCWasteLess article called one of the Givebacks held in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, "a gathering of the nations."

Sanitation would deliver between 75 and 300 cubic yards of compost made from fall leaves to designated giveback sites (the amount depended on the site size and anticipated demand) a few days prior to the event. On the day of the event itself, the compost bin vendor would arrive with a truckload of compost bins. Compost Project staff and Master Composters would be on hand to set up demonstration bins and compost information tables. New Yorkers would drive to the compost distribution locations with their own containers and shovels. They were allowed to take up to 30 gallons of finished compost free of charge.

From 1999-2001, 8,265 New Yorkers attended Compost Givebacks. These New Yorkers retrieved 1,261 cubic yards of compost and bought 2,922 subsidized compost bins! While this decentralized system was effective in reaching a wide swath of New Yorkers, it contained a range of logistical challenges that made it difficult to manage and effectively advertise. Read DSNY's Composting in New York City report for more information about the early days of the Compost Givebacks.

In 2004, Givebacks were moved to DSNY BWPRR leaf composting sites in the Bronx, Staten Island, and, while operative, Brooklyn, so that the compost would not have to be delivered and then, (if there was remaining compost,) returned to the DSNY BWPRR leaf composting sites. Compost Projects would no longer have to scour around looking for host sites and New Yorkers were now able to take away unlimited amounts of free, top-quality compost as opposed to the 30 gallon limit at the other sites.

Compost Project staff and Master Composters continued to help set up demonstration bins and compost information tables. And, New Yorkers continued to pick-up free compost in the same fashion. Every year the program grew as more and more people found out about the events. Compost Givebacks were held every spring and fall at these sites until 2009 and over 5,465 cars (around 11,000 attendees) came to the events to purchase subsidized compost bins and garner significant amounts of free compost. See more specific info on previous giveback events.

Future Compost Givebacks will not be held out of these sites until funding for leaf composting collection is restored since there is no raw material from which to create compost.

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Subsidized Compost Bins

In 1997, the NYC Compost Project in Brooklyn offered a limited number of subsidized backyard composting bins at the Prospect Park Compost Giveback event. BWPRR helped offset the cost and made these bins available to New York City residents for $20, as opposed to the standard $70–$80 retail price. Master Composters were available to discuss how to set up and use the bins.

In 1998, this model of free compost coupled with a subsidized bin sale was piloted citywide in an effort to encourage as many NYC residents as possible to compost their food and yard waste at home. This became one of the central highlights of the Compost Givebacks, with NYC residents flocking not just to pick up free compost but also to buy subsidized compost bins. Top notch compost-bins are still available at cost through certain NYC Compost Project sites.

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DSNY Promotion

DSNY's efforts to inform residents of Compost Giveback events included some or all of the following:

  • mailing to residents, elected officials, and community organizations
  • print ads in local publications
  • info tables at various venues
See previous compost givebacks for the stats on attendance and specific promotional pieces used.

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Other DSNY Compost Distribution Programs

In addition to the Compost Givebacks, BWPRR provides finished compost to community gardens, city agencies, and other nonprofit greening organizations throughout all five boroughs. Find out more about what happens to nyc compost!

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