Urban composting programs take root

The intersection of young people’s penchant for spending a lot of money on food and their passion for innovation centered on sustainability has made them highly aware of food waste. This has given rise to programs aimed at reusing or recycling excess food. To do their part, young urbanites are engaging in composting programs, many of which are now being offered by the cities they call home.


As part of NYC’s Zero Waste program to dramatically reduce its contribution to landfills, the city introduced a curbside composting pilot in 2013 with plans to roll out “brown bins” city-wide in 2018. While the expansion of the program has not yet reached all neighborhoods, the composting program is the country’s largest and available to 3.5 million residents within the city’s five boroughs. The program only captures about 10% of the food waste it could be taking in, with many urbanites citing a lack of education about composting contributing to the slow pick up.


In 2018, Ann Arbor-based composting program More Composting, More Carts! was the first grant recipient of a city-wide program called Sustaining Ann Arbor Together. Residents who want to participate in the initiative pay $25 to receive a composting bin (though to encourage participation, the program offered discounted bins for $15 in 2018). The program is buoyed by local volunteers who educate residents about composting, particularly that the program goes beyond collecting vegetable matter to include meat scraps and bones. Taking sustainability into account in every part of the program, carts are even delivered by bicycle-drawn trailers.


Iowa City’s composting program began in 2017 and doubled in scope in 2018. Residents can receive a free bin—offered in three different size options, depending on their need—and participation in the program is an additional $2 that gets added to one’s utility bill. The city ultimately sells the resulting compost to local landscapers, builders, and homeowners. The program is only one component of Iowa City’s overall initiative to reduce food waste; it also encourages residents to only buy the food they plan to eat and to donate surplus food to community organizations, such as the food rescue program Table To Table.