How and where to compost in Brooklyn

A food scraps drop off at the Grand Army Plaza farmers market in 2017.
File photo by Elizabeth Graham

Composting is one of the easiest ways to reduce waste that would otherwise pack landfills and  incinerators, by recycling old food and yard scraps for a better use — and yet, city-dwellers have long struggled to find adequate outposts for the eco-friendly practice. 

Compared to other cities around the country, New York City is lacking in municipal composting services, but there are still many ways Brooklynites can dispose of their organics in an environmentally-friendly way, according to the founder of a Gowanus-based recycling and composting nonprofit.

“Organic waste is 30 percent of the residential waste stream. If we can create a system to get it out, we’re really going to reduce the waste stream we’re currently sending to landfill,” said Justin Green, the executive director of Big Reuse.

Composting organics diverts the waste from being shipped to faraway landfills, where they can cause more harmful emissions of methane, a greenhouse gas 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide, and burning them in an incinerator can be damaging for nearby communities, Green said.

Big Reuse offers organics drop-off at the Salt Lot at the end of Second Avenue near the Gowanus Canal seven days a week in collaboration with the Gowanus Canal Conservancy, and is one of dozens of community-run sites around the city.

Big Reuse’s Salt Lot facility in Gowanus accepts food and yard scraps seven days a week.Big Reuse

The Department of Sanitation has a handy map with all the sites offering drop offs and what time and days which they’re open, including farmers markets, community gardens, and churches.

Northern Brooklyn and Manhattan have a dense array of locations to compost, while central and southern Brooklynites will need to travel further to reach a site — although, with outposts in Bay Ridge, Coney Island, and Canarsie, Kings Countians are never too far to help the planet. 

Here’s what’s accepted at the drop off sites:

  • Fruits, vegetables and eggshells
  • Coffee, tea and nuts
  • Dried flowers and houseplants
  • Bread, grains, pasta

This is what is not accepted at food scrap drop-off sites:

  • Meat, fish, and dairy
  • Pet waste and kitty litter
  • Pressure-treated plywood, lumber, or sawdust
  • Clean paper, glossy paper, or cardboard
  • Metal, glass or plastic
  • Medical waste, diapers, and personal hygiene products
  • BPI-certified compostable plastic products

Letting the scraps properly decompose over time creates a nutrient rich blend that can be used as fresh soil.

Big Reuse picks up materials from 40 drop offs around the five boroughs and redistribute the soil back to city parks, community gardens, and sidewalk tree beds.

The city up until recently had a curbside pickup program with brown bins for organic waste in some parts of the five boroughs, but Mayor Bill de Blasio put the service on pause amid COVID-19 budget woes in May 2020, and DSNY’s website states the program is not poised to come back until June 30, 2022.

Green notes that anyone with a backyard can easily compost their own scraps by getting a tumbler or building one themselves, which later will provide fresh and free soil.

“If you have a back yard it’s not that hard,” he said. “Eventually you’ll have something you can use in your garden.”

For DIY bins, Green advised to install some sort of mesh to keep out pests and rodents, and he added that not adding meat, fish, oil, and fats, and dairy in compost pile will make it less attractive to critters.

Borough do-gooders have started to fill in the gap left by the municipal cutbacks, such as Bushwick-based BK ROT, which has a fleet of compost bikers that pick up compost right from your stoop for a monthly fee as low as $17.50, serving Bushwick, Bedford–Stuyvesant, and parts of south Williamsburg and northern Crown Heights.

“All these community groups really stepped up to try and fill in the void,” he said. “We’re all hoping [DSNY’s curbside pickup] comes back. If enough people speak up and ask for it and if the City Council requires it it will happen.”