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Transcript: Mayor Adams Announces Roadmap for Nation's Largest Compost Collection Program, Including Achieving Decades-Long Goal of Providing Curbside Service to Every New York City Resident

February 1, 2023

Deputy Mayor Meera Joshi, Operations: Good afternoon, everyone. Today, we are very proud to announce the launch of a citywide curbside organics program, the largest in the nation. And reusing food scraps is not new. Not new at all. The irony is how long it's taken us to get here. For centuries, every society around the world understood the value of food waste. It's long been an important fertilizer, allowing us to grow more food. However, our smart modern societies not only devalued food waste, we actually began paying others to take it off our hands, to send it to other communities' backyards, costing us millions and generating carbon emissions. And today, we're getting back to our common sense roots, led by a refreshing common sense mayor, and a mayor who stands apart for his focus and understanding on the integral role of food and food conservation and what it means for our individual and our collective health.

And with our amazing operational executor, commissioner of Sanitation, Jessica Tisch, at the helm of the Department of Sanitation, and with the critical daily work of the women and the men of the Department of Sanitation, we are launching the nation's largest curbside organics program.

And it's common sense for many reasons — it's curbside. We're not asking people to fill out multiple forms and wait for every alternate day to set out a specific bin. It's integrated into your normal trash routine pickup. It's common sense because it makes fiscal sense. It's the most cost effective program to date. It's common sense because it takes a third of our trash out of our trash stream and away from rats. We can kill every rat. That's helpful, but we have to cut off their food source. That's a better way. And it's common sense because instead of paying other people to dispose of our valuable asset food scraps, we're using it ourselves to compost, make biosolids, and renewable energy. It's a big step for New York City after a history of incremental starts and stops. And so to introduce our non-stop mayor, I have Ingrid Martin, our chief advisor.

Ingrid Lewis-Martin, Chief Advisor to the Mayor: It's also common sense because we have a great common sense deputy mayor, Meera Joshi, who was one of the anchors to ensure that our great, common sense commissioner — who I had the pleasure to work with to close the deal, to bring it to fruition — is at the helm.

So I was asked to share a little story with you. I was one of those who just throws my food anywhere. I didn't really care about recycling or paper goods, bottled goods, food scraps. But in working with our mayor from our days back in the Senate all the way to our tenure here and under the leadership of our Sanitation commissioner, I have been brought to the light. I don't know another way to say it. And I understand the value and the importance of composting. I am excited about this program going throughout all five of our boroughs. I am excited about it coming to my neighborhood in Prospect Lefferts Gardens in Brooklyn. So Brooklyn, get ready. Be prepared. We cannot allow Queens to outdo us.

So it's a great program. One we worked really hard to have happen in our city, and it happened as a result of the dedicated and astuteness of our 110th mayor, Honorable Eric Adams. Thank you.

Mayor Eric Adams: Thank you. Good, good point. And I think your story is really something that we often don't acknowledge. How do we communicate with people in a language and in a conversation that they understand? Because even as we rolled out these initiatives, we rolled out in a monotone language as though everyone received it the same way. Many communities like Crown Heights, where you are from Brownsville, Bed-Stuy, South Jamaica, Queens — for far too long, even in NYCHA, they were not allowed to have farmers markets. We were overpassing them in the recycling program.

We cannot have a language that just communicates to certain parts of the city and ignore others. That's why people are reluctant to embrace these concepts because they don't feel as though we are speaking to them. And when you have a highly educated person like Ingrid, a homeowner is saying that, "Okay, I don't feel as though this is speaking to me." And for her to see that, okay, this program is speaking to me. We're going to get other Ingrids. We're going to get other people who have been historically left out of this process because of what Commissioner Tisch is doing and how she's communicating. She's communicating in plain, simple language that people understand.

Today, we signed a bill that was introduced by Councilperson Velázquez and some of the advocates stood up and talked about the items that we received in takeaways that we could discard. And the advocate stood up and she stated, "For years, we've been trying to accomplish this, but this administration has gotten it done." That has been a universal tone that you don't hear often when people report what we are doing. Over and over again, people are saying, "We've been trying to do this for years. We've been trying to do this for years." Just go back and do an analysis at some of our announcements and you pull out everyday people saying, "We've been trying to do this for years. No one wanted to listen. And finally, we have an administration that is actually not only listening, but we are getting it done."

The largest composting program on the planet, on the planet. And it's because we are willing to take these steps. We started off in Queens, 13 million pounds. Commissioner Tisch was clear that we are going to get it done right away. We're not going to sit around and just over analyze the process. We're going to be smart in how we're doing it, and she was able to accomplish that.

But we're going even further. By 2024, New York City residents will have access to clean, convenient, curbside compost pickup from the Department of Sanitation. First time ever. Many people have tried this. You got it done. You were able to accomplish it, and it's really commendable. And for more than two decades of past administrations, great mayors like Mayor Bloomberg has attempted to do this. He did some amazing things around environmental and learning from what other mayors have attempted to do. We built on that so we can actually get it done.

Until now, New Yorkers had to bring their compost to a neighborhood drop off location. Just was extremely not that convenient. They had to deal with a one collection program, or a once in a while collection program. This was just really unacceptable to New Yorkers. So as a result, we've witnessed mountains of stinky trash bags on our sidewalks, and it was just not working. And we wanted to make sure that we were successful.

So by the end of next year, New Yorkers in all five boroughs will be able to challenge like they did in Queens. As Ingrid said, Brooklyn's not going to lose. They're going to be able to place their yard waste and food scraps out on the curb year round. It would be the largest, as I stated, composing in the nation. And it is a win for New Yorkers, and it's a win for all of us. The only one that loses are those rats. And you may not know it, but I hate rats. And our goal is to zero in on whatever  it takes to address that. Separating food waste, we keep rats and trash bags off our streets. This is extremely important to keep moving forward. And we're saying loud and clear that this city deserves better, and taking steps incrementally in each area that feeds our trash problem and our landfills is what we are focusing on.

This is an important initiative that we started last year in Queens, and now 8.5 million New Yorkers are going to be able to participate. If we were able to remove 13 million pounds out from Queens, imagine what we're going to do citywide, and that's where this energy is coming from.

And being focused on this black goal. Fertilizer, food waste, turning it into a way for people to be able to use it to grow healthy food. This is what Mother Nature always intended when she stated, "Let's recycle." That which is trash can become that which grows healthy food and feed us in the future.

We're going to return the composting to parks, planters, and personal gardens. People will be able to pick this up for free. And those who love gardening or growing urban farms have become extremely successful in this city. This is an opportunity to participate in that.

So this is a real win. It's a real win for all of us and even the advocates. Julie and I, we've been talking about stuff like this for years. You have been a real partner and we cannot say thank you enough. And again, I want to thank the commissioner for a job well done. She's really continued to knock it out the park. Thank you.

Deputy Mayor Joshi: Now, I want to introduce our sanitation commissioner, Jessica Tisch.

Commissioner Jessica Tisch, Department of Sanitation: Thank you. Good afternoon. When I started at DSNY, Mayor Adams laid out for me his vision for composting in New York City. He didn't want just any old curbside composting program. He went much bolder than that. Something effective, something cost effective, something easy, something big, something built for everyone and every corner of the city, not a niche program designed only for the truest of the true believers, but a mass market one.

That is why this administration has developed a new model for curbside composting. Positioning it as a service that we offer New Yorkers, rather than acting like placing composting at the curb is a favor they're doing for us.

As part of that, we remove complex restrictions and requirements: signing up, opting in, expressing interest, ordering a specific type of bin. We made it simple. Just give us anything from your kitchen or anything from your garden in our bin or in your bin once a week on your recycling day, and we'll come pick it up.

We like to say, "If you cook it or you grow it, you can throw it." And you know what? It worked. In the borough-wide program we started last October, eight districts in Queens each diverted more material than Park Slope. Think about that. The beating heart of the composting belt, where they've had curbside service for over a decade, being outperformed by more than half of the districts in Queens. And one district in particular. Queens 12, which is Jamaica and St. Albans, they diverted more material than the entire seven district legacy program combined. Three times the material on average at less than one third the cost per district, compared to the old legacy composting programs.

We knew that New Yorkers wanted to do the right thing and that if we just made it easy, they would. If we talked to them less about reducing greenhouse gas and more about reducing green ooze. Less about CO2, more about pee-ew. Less about methane, and more about giving rats hunger pains. Yahtzee.

This spring, service restarts in Queens following a brief winter pause and becomes year round. There will be no further seasonal breaks in any borough. This fall, service begins in Brooklyn. And the following spring, trucks begin rolling in Staten Island and the Bronx. And finally, on October 7th, 2024, service will come right here to Manhattan, completing the rollout of the first ever citywide curbside composting program. On that day, the rats will be cowering in fear.

But there is more. Today, we lay out a holistic approach to getting the rat food out of the black bags and out of the landfills once and for all. To that end, we have just completed installation of 250 of our popular orange compost smart composting bins where New Yorkers can drop off material 24/7 using an app to find and open the bins. Even while installation of these bins was ongoing, many of them had been regularly filled with pristine compostable material.

We have placed them in a number of traditionally underserved communities including Bushwick, Bed-Stuy, Washington Heights, Harlem, Castle Hill, Parkchester, Highbridge, the area around the Queensbridge Houses, and the North Shore of Staten Island. And with Manhattan receiving curbside collection service last, today we are announcing that we are going to add an additional 150 bins across that borough. From a small pilot of 25 bins in Astoria to 400 bins citywide in about one year. I can also reaffirm that we are on track to be conducting curbside composting service at every DOE school by the end of next school year.

Finally, we are announcing a special thank you to the people of Queens who helped prove this program to be a success. This spring, all Queens residents will be able to pick up 40 pound bags of New York City compost for use in their yards and their gardens. At least one event per Queens community board. DSNY will continue to conduct more compost giveback events in every borough as the program proceeds, where the material that residents put out for composting is given back to them the following year as usable soil.
Every piece of this holistic wraparound approach we are announcing today is a huge win for cleanliness, a huge win for sustainability. Any single piece of it would've been huge on its own, but this mayor wanted composting to be easy in every corner of the city. And now, it will be.


Deputy Mayor Joshi: Next, we'll hear from Julie Tighe from the League of Conservation Voters.

Julie Tighe, President, New York League of Conservation Voters: Thank you so much. I am one of those people, where I am a true believer. I think you all know that. I composted in my backyard when I lived in Albany. It was very easy. No rats, I promise.

I'm Julie Tighe. I'm president of the New York League of Conservation Voters. We're a statewide advocacy organization. I'm really happy to be here today with the mayor, and the commissioner, and the deputy mayor and senior advisor to show our strong support for a citywide curbside composting program.

It's been a long time coming. You talked about that. It's been going back. We've been talking about it the last few mayors. We know that this mayor actually is getting stuff done here. We're not just talking about it. We're not just having a plan about it. We're not talking about rhetoric. We're turning it into real action. So we are excited.

We asked during the campaign, as you mentioned, when you were borough president, as you took office, I talked to the commissioner the first week she was in office, and you listened. You are taking action to make that happen, and we're really excited to see this move forward. Since the rollout can happen overnight, we're really excited to see the expansion of the bin so that people can drop them off. They're really popular. Personally, I'm using the… Hudson River Park has some facilities that they make available on their park near the Intrepid. That's where I go. Jeff asked me earlier if I compost. I do. We know that they're a big hit, as we already heard.

It is really important to make sure that people are educated about it, that they know this is not just about methane, but I'm going to tell you it is also about methane. We know that we produce over a million tons of food waste every single year, and it's 4 percent of the city's greenhouse gas emissions. That's 11 pounds of food waste per week per household. So that's going to go a long way to maybe satisfy our rat population, but it's really bad for the environment. It's really bad for garbage. We know that when this material ends up in landfills, it releases methane and that greenhouse gas is three times more potent than carbon dioxide.

So for you kids out there who want to fight climate change, this is an easy way for you to take action personally, and we make sure that we're getting that food waste and that yard waste out of our waste stream. We'll put it in a much better position for composting. Really happy to see that we're going to be giving that away because it is not a waste. It is a resource that we can and should be using. I mean, it also can be turned into renewable energy just like DEP is doing at their anaerobic digesters in Newtown Creek, working with waste management to take food waste and sewage sludge so that we're not only enriching our environment and our soils. But we're also creating new renewable fuels and fighting climate change.

So on behalf of the New York League of Conservation voters, I want to thank Mayor Adams for your leadership on this issue. To our fellow New Yorkers, we're confident this program is going to bring about positive change to our city and our environment. And finally, to the mayor's least favorite New Yorkers, to our rats, the message is clear. No more free lunch, no more open dining. So thank you.

Mayor Adams: A few questions. Commissioner? Me? Hey.

Question: I wanted to ask, I know rats keep getting brought up and it might have been too short of a trial to actually get any data, but is there any kind of scientific or information that shows, because of the composting program in Queens…

Mayor Adams: Good question.

Question: … the reduction of rats?

Mayor Adams: Good question. Do we have any data? That's a good question, Kate. You always ask good questions.

Commissioner Tisch: Katie, I think it was… The program was three months, so I'd like to look at it over a longer time period to really get meaningful results for you. So that's actually something that we've been discussing with the deputy mayor — is once we have more data, looking at, hope to see a decline in rat complaints.

Question: I just want to follow up. I know when I see a lot of rats, it's in a lot of commercial trash because restaurants are… And I know that there's some — I don't know if there's a larger plan for composting within restaurants, because I mean if I was a rat that's where I'd go.

Commissioner Tisch: Yes. There are a number of rules that have kicked in over the past two years around requiring restaurants and food service businesses — a lot of different types of restaurants and food services businesses — to separate out their organic waste. Obviously, when the commercial waste zones are implemented, that will make policing that much more straightforward.

Question: Hi, Mr. Mayor.

Mayor Adams: How are you?

Question: I have a question about one of the things that advocates call for is mandating composting. Other cities that have composting programs rolled out after a couple years. Is it something you're, that you're planning to do? I know people need to get used to it, but advocates say that's a way to make a dent and making people take part in this.

Mayor Adams: Yeah, and it wasn't mandatory in Queens and we have an extremely successful program. And so this is the first phase. Let's get New Yorkers used to it and we are seeing a participation that we were looking for. And then as times move on, if we want to require to — mandate it, we will do so. But clearly we are seeing the results that we want because I think New Yorkers want to do the right thing. I think Ingrid’s comments really touch base. I know the community of South Jamaica, Queens. I grew up there. For South Jamaica, Queens to be leading the way, it's clear that we are speaking to people and not at people. And I think that if we just automatically say we are going to mandate it.. You know New Yorkers, whenever you say something is mandated, they start just responding differently. So we're doing a good job. 13 million pounds was great. So let's… We're going to continue to map it out. I trust Commissioner Tisch, she got this. She knows what she's doing.

Question: Hi, Mr. Mayor. As you pointed out, other mayors have tried to make progress on this issue and have failed. Come budget time, composting is often on the chopping block. Are you promising now that that's not going to happen looking forward with this decision.

Mayor Adams: When it comes down to budget, I can't promise anything. The asylum seekers this year, $1.4 billion. Next fiscal year, $2.8 billion. I cannot promise anything. I don't know what's going to happen at the border. I said it before and I'm going to continue to say it, and I'm hoping — I'm happy to see a lot of my colleagues are now joining me. We need the federal government to get involved. This is going to impact every service New Yorkers receive. Every service. My goal is not to hurt those services that we could use to benefit our city, but everything we must look at. I have to continue to manage this real budget crisis we are having and it's being aggravated by the asylum crisis.


Question: I'll move on. It's either a question for you, mayor or the commissioner. When I went on the composting app, I noticed that it encourages people to use bags to throw out the compost with, including plastic bags. And I'm wondering, does the Sanitation Department have a way to separate out the plastic or doesn't it taint the compost?

Commissioner Tisch: No, it doesn't taint the compost before it goes into the composting facility or the anaerobic digester. The… It's taken out of the bags so we… It's separated.

Question: My question is, I assume once people start composting it becomes regularly and the bins will fill up. I'm sure their bins at home will fill up. It seems like it's only weekly. Is there a plan if there's a lot of compost to increase the amount of service because then obviously rats will come. So is that a part of the plan?

Commissioner Tisch: So that would be a great problem to have. I will be very happy the day I have that problem and I hope to have it. I think that that's why we're not just announcing curbside composting today. That's also where the smart bins come in. The smart bins are available 24/7. They're collected regularly every day. And so there are different options if you want to get rid of your compost material sooner than your weekly collection. There's also a number of green markets. It's not just the bins. There are hundreds of places across the city and in every community district where you can go and drop off your composting.

Question: Just quickly, when are all the bins coming to the boroughs and how many?

Commissioner Tisch: So we just finished deploying 250 bins. That's complete as of last week, and they're across all five boroughs. And today we've announced that we're doing 150 more in Manhattan because Manhattan will be the last borough to get the curbside composting service.

Mayor Adams: Let's see the app. I want to play with the app. 


Mayor Adams: Okay, you hang around 'cause the press is going to be talking trash in a moment. I need you to be here with me so if I got to take that avocado and throw it at Bernadette. 

Question: Mr. Mayor, what did you ask President Biden yesterday about the migrant crisis? Did you ask him for money, and what did he say? And then also separately, Hochul has her budget presentation today and she said that the state is going to be providing $1 billion dollars. But then the city and the feds are also going to be on the hook for a third. I'm not sure how much that is. How much are you anticipating the city will have to pay according to the governor's budget proposal?

Mayor Adams: The budget proposal is new, it just came out. We are analyzing it, and Jacques will give us an analysis of exactly what it would be. And I shared with the president that what's big for me is the coordination. Having someone that's going to coordinate the entire effort that we have to deal with this crisis, and that was my primary conversation. And he stated that we need to sit down and collaborate on how to get this done.

Question: Did he give you any commitment that there'll be federal funding sent to New York, and how much?

Mayor Adams: The omnibus bill passed with the $800 million. We don't know exactly what we are going to receive. We will look at that and they'll make the determination. But we're sure there's going to be some federal funding, but we want to get the issue resolved completely.

Question: I was wondering… Hi, Mr. Mayor. What does the city need in the state budget for supportive housing and migrant shelters? And did you get what you wanted from what you saw today?

Mayor Adams: Again, we're looking at the budget. It was just recently released. We're looking at it and we'll come back and give a statement on exactly the governor's budget.

Question: Hi Mr. Mayor, a question for you. Today as part of the governor's proposed budget, she proposed that New York City contribute more to the MTA. $500 million each year for Access-A-Ride and discount fares for students. What did you think about that?

Mayor Adams: We are looking at the governor's budget. We are going to analyze and give a statement on it, once we dig into exactly what she's proposing.

Question: Do you think the city should contribute to the MTA's budget?

Mayor Adams: I'll look at it and analyze it.

Question: Hi Mr. Mayor. I wanted you to respond to the standoff that's still occurring at that Midtown hotel, The Watson, where some of the migrants are refusing to go to the HERRC in Brooklyn.

Mayor Adams: It's not a standoff. We had over 1,000 people who were in the hotel. The overwhelming number of them moved. From my analysis, about 30 are still there. And I'm not even sure they are migrants. There are some agitators that just really… I think it's doing a disservice to the migrants and doing a disservice to the children and families who are moving into the hotels.

Question: What would you say to them?

Mayor Adams: That we are moving children and families into the hotel. Single adult males all over the city are living in congregate settings. Single adult males. Children and families, we don't want to put them in congregate settings. And when I went to the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal — because you all know me, I like to go on the ground, I heard all of these complaints about no heat, no hot water, no food. And when I went there and saw there’s clean bathrooms, heat, warm. Some people were wearing shorts inside. And the migrants and asylum seekers, what they said to me, they said, "Thank you, Mr. Mayor, we would like to work." And that's why I'm pushing to make sure that they're able to work. We did not hear one person there saying that they did not want to be there.

And then yesterday, Commissioner Castro, some people were reluctant because of what they were hearing from some of the agitators, that they were going to be shipped out and that's why we were taking them there. Commissioner Castro said, "Come join me, you come see for yourself."

Question: Just 23 minutes ago, a new poll was released. And according to Quinnipiac, more New Yorkers are disapproving of the job you're doing than approving, down minus 6 percent. Why don't New Yorkers get you? Are you thinking about changing anything in order to make more people approve of what you're doing?

Mayor Adams: Listen, I haven't seen the poll. And you and I know polls go up and down, up and down. And we're just going to continue to do what we do and that's produce for New Yorkers. I am really pleased with the administration and where they are, and we're going to continue to stay focused. No distractions and grind. You heard that on the campaign trail, didn't you?

Question: Thank you, Mr. Mayor.

Mayor Adams: Yes.

Question: Many migrants can't work for several months after they file for asylum. What is the city doing to help these migrants with work, and also with… They're becoming more (inaudible) now with city-run shelters.

Mayor Adams: And I think that you are right. When you do an analysis that it is just unbelievable that we have an immigration policy that states for six months, you come into a city and you can't take a job for six months. And even after that six months, there is still a process. It's just unfair. And so we're saying that New York, Chicago, Houston, Washington and the other cities, El Paso, that you have to pick up this tab for six months.

Now some of you, you're a long way from being 18. But can you imagine 18 to 24-year-old men being told you could do nothing for six months? That's just unfair. And what we are calling for Congress to do, particularly the Republican congressional delegation, is to come with some real comprehensive immigration reform. But we need to make some real decisions right now, and I think that we should allow people to work. And some are working, and we're not receiving those tax benefits. So it's just a lose-lose for us, and that is why we're advocating for it.


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