Panel Preview: Waste Not, Want Not

In order for NYC to send zero waste to out-of-state landfills by 2030—one of the aims of Mayor de Blasio’s One New York plan—big steps are needed from the building community. Next Thursday, we’ll bring together waste management experts Christina Grace (Foodprint Group) and Brett Mons (City Department of Sanitation) for a discussion moderated by Clare Miflin (Kiss + Cathcart, Architects). We spoke with Mons and Grace to learn more about the issues surrounding waste management, and what the future holds, ahead of next week’s panel.

“This work is very new in NYC, with larger-scale commercial composting being driven by the Commercial Waste Ban, Local Law 146,” says Grace. According to Mons, the law, passed in 2013, identifies 11 business types (or industry “cohorts”) considered to be large food waste generators. Under the law, the Department of Sanitation commissioner is tasked with determining which and to what degree these cohorts will be required to separate their organic waste for the purpose of processing.  

Because LL146 is still in the process of being implemented, Mons says, all NYC food waste programs to date have been voluntary, such as mayor Bloomberg’s Food Waste Challenge (which reportedly captured 48% of participant food waste) and the Department of Sanitation’s Organics Collection Program, whose results “are much more modest,” says Mons.

In terms of voluntary programs at the commercial level, Grace cites the work The Related Companies have done to develop a food waste management strategy for Hudson Yards. The project includes a diverse range of buildings and building ownership, and because of this, Grace says, “the approach is multi-pronged: residential buildings will separate waste through an Envac pneumatic vacuum system, while some of the commercial buildings will be encouraging onsite organics processing using performance specs to encourage investment in onsite processing—equipment such as digesters that process food waste into fertilizer, or other less energy-intensive dehydration solutions.” Grace says some of these systems have the potential to decrease organic waste by 80% or more.

With technology playing such a large role in waste management, does building design affect which strategy to choose? Grace says it does. “A common issue is insufficient space for separate compactors or containers for trash, organics, and recyclables. Basic in-kitchen separation can always be figured out, but post-consumer separation in corporate cafeterias requires good design—foolproof waste stations with clear signage and differentiated bin openings. Often public waste stations are poorly designed, and as a result the waste and recyclables are highly contaminated.”

More high-tech separation systems, such as Envac and MariMatic automatic waste collection systems, or even compact digesters such as Global Enviro that require plumbing, can be difficult and more expensive to retrofit into a building, Grace says, and it’s best to incorporate them into new building design. Grace will go into more detail on technologies like these at the panel discussion on July 23, so register now to learn more.

About the authors

Urban Green Council
Dedicated to transforming buildings for a sustainable future.