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Is Composting Feasible in New York City? Research Paper

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Updated: Apr 1st, 2020

While composting is feasible in New York City, there are already alternatives in place that make the process less worthwhile.

Introduction – What is composting?

The process of composting involves the recycling of nutrient rich organic matter and turning it into a viable fertilizer for a variety of plant types. In fact, prior to the development of modern day fertilizers, composting used to be the method of choice for farmers when it came to enriching their land with some areas in developing countries continuing to utilize the practice. The process works by placing discarded food, vegetable scraps and other forms of organic matter into a container and letting the natural process of decomposition do its work1.

By adding worms, foliage (i.e. dead leaves), and other types of natural organic matter into the mix, this helps to speed up the process and create a natural fertilizer that helps to enhance the nutritional quality of soil when it is added into it. Based on what has been stated so far, it can be seen that composting is actually a viable and above all affordable practice for people looking to make the plants they grow thrive. However, it must be questioned whether the process of composting can be applied in all types of communities.

For instance, a compost heap can easily be created in a rural setting or in sub-urban community due to the availability of space; however, in cramped urban settings, the viability of creating a compost heap is questionable. There are also issues related to the supposed smell that is commonly attributed to decomposing organic matter, the sanitary repercussions of having a pile of rotting food in an enclosed space, as well as the proper utilization of the compost (i.e. how it can be used).

Taking all these factors into consideration, this paper will delve into whether composting is actually feasible in urban environments given the factors that have just been mentioned. It is the assumption of this paper that while composting is feasible in New York City, there are already alternatives in place that make the process less worthwhile.

Why Would People Compost their Garbage?

There are a variety of reasons why composting your biodegradable garbage is a good idea; these range from creating a cheap yet effective fertilizer for your house plants, preventing excess garbage from going to your local landfill or simply to contribute towards the enrichment of the local environment.

Over the years there have been a variety of campaigns by nonprofit organizations that have promoted composting to various neighborhoods and, as such, this has resulted in the process gaining a significant level of popularity in various rural areas around the U.S. However, when it comes to cities such as New York, the process behind composting is viewed with a significant level of hesitance.

This is not because people within the city do not want to help in protecting the environment, rather, the reason behind such concerns is connected to the very nature of urban dwellings and how the process behind composting may be incompatible with them. It is based on this that the following sections will delve into the various reasons why composting is at times considered infeasible within a highly urbanized environment.

Space Issues

Due to the high cost of living and the sheer amount of people within New York City, the cost of apartments in any one of the various boroughs or parts of city are usually set at exorbitant prices and are usually quite small. It is due to this that, for most people, space is a definite issue when it comes to having furniture or any form of potted plant.

In the case of composting, the limited amount of space (ranging from 20 to 30 square meters for most apartments) prevents most people from even thinking about creating their own compost pile. Traditionally, a compost pile is normally composed of an open air wooden box or crate that is left outside and is regularly filled with food scraps or other forms of biodegradable matter.

When taking into consideration the limited amount of space within an average apartment within New York City, creating a compost heap is almost not feasible. There is also the fact that having a large pile of rotting garbage in an enclosed apartment with limited amounts of ventilation would result in a considerably strong and disgusting odor2. Taking these factors into consideration, it can be seen that the limited amount of space in most apartments within the city does play a considerable part in preventing most people from composting their garbage.

Sanitary Issues

Aside from the limited amount of space in most apartments within the city, there are also sanitary issues that need to be considered. The process of composting involves the breakdown of biologic matter into its component parts. This results in the accumulation of methane gas, a slurry of organic residual waste, dark fluids that originate from the moisture that was in the biologic matter and the fact that the process of decomposition attracts all sorts of pests (i.e. flies and cockroaches).

While such aftereffects of developing a compost pile are perfectly fine when in an outdoor environment, they are unwelcome repercussions within an enclosed apartment in an urban setting. Not only would a rotting pile of garbage promote the spread of bacteria within the apartment, the resulting pests would be a definite cause for concern since they could potentially infect the entire apartment.

There is also the fact that the release of methane gas in an insufficiently ventilated area can result in a considerable level of air toxicity. The main problem with composting in a city is the lack of topsoil that would aid in absorbing the residual waste from a compost pile (i.e. the fluids) as well as the fact that placing a compost pile in the backyard of a house would isolate the various pests away from where a person lives.

Accumulating Compost Waste

Another factor that should be taken into consideration is the process behind waste accumulation within an urban setting as compared to rural areas. Based on the analysis of Jack (2013), it was noted that food consumption within urban environments like New York focused heavily on packaged food items due to their overall level of convenience3.

Due to the lack of space within many apartments in New York City, people are often limited when it comes to their capacity to cook their own food. Not only that, the price of fresh produce within the city is considerably higher as compared to rural areas. Combined, these factors show that for many people within the city, they simply do not accumulate sufficient organic waste in the form of vegetable scraps, fruit peels and other forms of organic matter to actually produce a sufficiently effective compost pile.

It should also be noted that scraps from various forms of junk food (i.e. chips, candies, etc.) are not viable compost materials given the amount of chemical processing they undergo which, when combined with the preservatives utilized, ensures that they deteriorate at a rate that is far slower than what is natural with the resulting residual waste usually lacking in the necessary nutrients and materials that would actually aid in the growth of plant life.

Methods of Composting in the City

While this paper has so far shown that there are considerable issues when it comes to composting within New York City, there are actually methods that can be implemented that would make it a viable option. For instance, there is the Nature Mill Ultra Composter (worth $400) which is a device that speeds up the process of decomposition by using electricity to heat up the compost materials at the right temperature to hasten the process of decomposition.

The device comes with a lid that prevents flies from getting to it and is sufficiently contained to the extent that it would prevent the various liquids that would come out of the compost from leaking out4. Aside from this, there are also composting services within the city that deliver compost buckets to your home and come back to retrieve it once it is full.

It can even return some of that compost back to you in the form of enriched soil which you can use on your house plants or you can donate the compost in its entirety to the company and they will use it in a variety of ventures such as giving it to farmers or enriching the soil of public parks5. Lastly, there are also small stainless steel bins that can be bought at Home Depot that were created specifically for composting.

These bins help to trap the moisture and smell of decomposing biological matter which helps to address the issues related to sanitation and they are sufficiently small enough that space is not an issue. There are also a variety of online guides that show how an apartment based compost pile can also be created utilizing a plastic bag, a large plastic bucket and a solid lid to keep the smell from circulating inside the apartment.

Lastly, in order to aid in the process of decomposition, live worms can actually be bought through a variety of online sites such as Amazon.com and be added to your compost pile. This would result in a faster rate of decomposition and when added to the soil of your potted plant would help in making the soil more fertile.

Overall, based on what has been presented so far, it can be seen that there are a variety of methods that can be implemented to safely create your own compost pile within a cramped New York City apartment. However, even if the process is feasible, it must be questioned whether other methods can be implemented that are just as good as or even better than creating your own compost pile.

Alternatives to Composting

Based on the previous section, it can be seen that there are viable methods to composting within the city that can be utilized by the average urban dweller in order to create their own compost pile. However, it must be questioned whether there are alternatives to composting that can similarly be utilized in order to take care of plants and home gardens within the city.

One of the possible alternatives to utilizing home based compost piles is to buy readymade nutrient mixes that are available in a variety of stores within the city such as Home Depot. Nutrient mixes are basically a form of liquefied or hard fertilizer that helps to enhance the nutritional quality of soil for plants. By mixing these products into the soil of your house plant, this would help to sustain its growth and make it healthy.

Aside from this, there are also small bags of soil that can be bought from Home Depot and other home gardening stores that have already been processed to ensure that they have a substantial nutritional profile for plants. The methods that have been mentioned so far are quick, clean and above all do not require substantial effort on the part of the buyer in order to implement.

While it may be true that creating your own home compost pile would be the most affordable option, the fact remains that, for most people, convenience trumps affordability. This particular attitude is especially prevalent among people that live in a city wherein they often do not have sufficient enough time to bother with accumulating compost material, buying worms, soil and combining all of it into a compost pile and wait for it to be ready.

If the reason why a person is composting is to help contribute to the environment, there are actually a variety of biological waste recycling centers that are located within the city that specifically process organic garbage to turn it into compost for farms around the country. A person could either sign up for the service so that a garbage truck could come by on a weekly basis to pick up their trash or they can go to the center themselves and drop off their trash which has already been sorted to include only biological waste matter.

Through such a process, a person would not have to go through the entire process of composting trash at home and could merely drop it off immediately at a center for processing. When taking all these factors into consideration, it can be seen that there are a plethora of alternatives to composting that are available to the general public.

As such, this calls into question the viability of the process of composting within the city since; for all intents and purposes, the alternatives seem far more convenient, efficient and effective as compared to following through with composting materials at home. It is based on this that the next section will delve into whether the application of composting within the city actually justifies the process behind it (i.e. the time and effort behind composting).

Does the Application Justify the Process?

After going over all the processes that have been mentioned so far, it can be seen that composting can be done safely, hygienically and above all feasibly within the city. However, despite the fact that it is possible to safely compost organic scraps in an urban setting, it must be questioned whether the application justifies the process behind it.

While composting does create a rich and cheap fertilizer for plants, the fact is that many people in New York have simple house plants that do not require a lot of maintenance or upkeep. Simply watering them once a day is enough for them to stay healthy as well as applying the nutrient mixes once in a while that were mentioned in the previous section.

What must be understood is that for a vast majority of the population of New York City, many of them come here in order to work. As such, they are subject to the complications that come with their jobs, interpersonal relationships and a variety of other concerns that they have to deal with on a daily basis. It is due to this that few of them have the complex gardens, vegetables and other forms of plant life that would benefit from the use of compost as a fertilizer.

Not only that, even fewer workers have the amount of free time necessary to maintain anything more than a single potted plant. It should also be noted that the size of average apartments within the city for members of the working class ranges from 20 to 25 square meters and not all of them have balconies or window ledges where plants can be placed.

Lastly, creating a compost heap within an apartment utilizing the processes that have been mentioned above must have a sufficient level of justification behind the process. Simply put, people will not create a compost heap because they can, rather, they would make one only if they had a viable reason. As such, given the factors that have been mentioned so far regarding the limitations of time and space that many people in New York City have, it is unlikely that they would have sufficient reason to create their own compost heaps.

One possible way to get around this would be if people created their own compost heaps simply to fertilize the various trees and plants that they encounter on their way to work. This would be a sufficiently justifiable reason behind creating an apartment based compost heap, however, altruism of this type is rare and it is unlikely that it would gain sufficient traction within the city.

This is further complicated by the fact that not many people live near Central Park or other areas where there is substantial plant growth and, as such, this limits the possibility that people would actually take up such an activity.

Conclusion

Based on what has been presented so far, it can be stated that while composting is feasible in New York City, there are already alternatives in place that make the process less worthwhile. People could simply buy fertilizers for their plants or subscribe to a biodegradable trash pickup service, both of which are comparably easier to utilize and require far less effort as compared to the process behind composting.

While composting itself does help to assist people in fertilizing their plants and reducing the amount of waste that goes into the various landfills, the fact remains that it seems to be a process that is more viable in rural areas than it is for enclosed urban environments. It is with this in mind that this paper concludes that while composting in New York City is definitely possible, it does not seem to be worth the effort given the alternatives that could be used instead.

Bibliography

Goldstein, Nora. “Community Composting In New York City.” Biocycle 54.11 (2013): 22. Print

Jack, Darby. “Socio-Economic Status, Neighborhood Food Environments And Consumption Of Fruits And Vegetables In New York City.” Public Health Nutrition 16.7 (2013): 1197-1205. Print

Kalish, Jennifer. “Apartment Composting Starts In NYC.” Waste & Recycling News 19.2 (2013): 9. Print

Kunter, Andreas. “Composting Essential To City’s Waste Diversion.” Biocycle 52.4 (2011): 51. Print

Footnotes

1 Darby Jack. “Socio-Economic Status, Neighborhood Food Environments And Consumption Of Fruits And Vegetables In New York City.” Public Health Nutrition 16.7 (2013): 1197-1205. Print

2 Jennifer Kalish. “Apartment Composting Starts In NYC.” Waste & Recycling News 19.2 (2013): 9. Print

3 Darby Jack. “Socio-Economic Status, Neighborhood Food Environments And Consumption Of Fruits And Vegetables In New York City.” Public Health Nutrition 16.7 (2013): 1197-1205. Print

4 Nora Goldstein. “Community Composting In New York City.” Biocycle 54.11 (2013): 22. Print

5 Andreas Kunter. “Composting Essential To City’s Waste Diversion.” Biocycle 52.4 (2011): 51. Print

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IvyPanda. 2020. "Is Composting Feasible in New York City?" April 1, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/is-composting-feasible-in-new-york-city/.

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IvyPanda. (2020) 'Is Composting Feasible in New York City'. 1 April.

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