When Ruth Messinger was running for mayor in 1997, a New York Times profile of her noted with interest that she had a special composting box in her Manhattan kitchen that housed garbage-eating worms -- an object that was unimaginable in the Gracie Mansion home of the man she was trying to unset, Rudy Giuliani.
Sixteen years later, Messinger's kitchen (sans worms) looks like it could become a reality for New Yorkers. Mayor Bloomberg wants residents to separate out their food scraps from their trash and place them in composting bins. Bloomberg administration officials say that the move will be good for the environment while also potentially saving the city almost $100 million a year by shipping less garbage to out-of-state landfills. One administration official says the program could become mandatory within two or three years. And with at least two of the mayoral candidates on board with the plan, it appears that a compost heap in every home isn't such a laughable idea.
The mayor has come a long way since he essentially stopped recycling when he first took office to deal with a budget crunch. But recycling – which started in the city in 1989 – has never quite recovered from that suspension with the rate still below 20 percent. If we can't get our act together to separate paper, glass, and metal from other trash, what hope do we have for chicken bones? And while Seattle and San Francisco have similar programs, I'm not sure that everyone in New York City has the same green civic pride as our friends on the Left Coast.
The first step is better education. Most New Yorkers – including myself -- would fail a basic recycling test. Do pizza boxes get recycled? "Rigid plastics" are now recyclable but what does that exactly include? New York can continue to raise the recycling bar but if fewer and fewer New Yorkers jump, there seems little point to composting. Let's sort out the newspapers first before we bring in the worms.