Can compost islands save New York?

| March 12, 2014

Present Architecture has a bold proposal that could change the face of New York City. Their project, called the Green Loop, aims to create giant compost islands off of each borough to process the city’s waste.

Rather than being eyesores, these islands will actually be soothing to the eye and will include 125 acres of parkland. Below this green area will be a giant compost.

How big is New York’s waste problem?

Pretty big. New York City produces 14 million tons of trash a year, which gets sent to landfills outside the city. That’s an average of three pounds of trash generated per person per day.

About 30 percent of the waste generated is organic, largely food waste, which can be composted. It is this part of the waste that Present Architecture plans to transform.

What’s the cost?

“It won’t be cheap, but if you consider that NYC is spending over $300 million every year to truck waste out of the city to landfills, it’s possible that these facilities could start to make financial sense over time,” say project leaders Evan Erlebacher and Andre Guimond. “A project like this could take years to review and build, but construction of the network can be phased, so it’s not all built at once.”

How would the compost plant work?

Trucks would ferry waste in and ships would take the compost out. “Our compost parks are located along the waterfront to take advantage of existing transportation infrastructure for barges and rail,” say Erlebacher and Guimond of Present Architecture. A road along the island will enable trucks from the land to unload waste in the facility.

“We send trucks millions of miles every year, creating traffic, noise pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions, all of this so that our waste can be landfilled, where it then rots and creates even more greenhouse gas,” they say. “It’s a big, dirty problem.”

What are the environmental and economic benefits?

Under the new plan, traffic congestion would decrease. Naturally, air pollution levels and greenhouse gas emissions would fall, too. Present Architecture proposes 10 compost islands so that “every borough is responsible for processing its own waste instead of sending the entire city’s trash to one or two over-burdened boroughs,” says the firm.

The city can then sell the nutrient-rich compost produced. Another benefit — the Green Loop would create jobs. “A large construction project like this would definitely keep people busy for a while. And then once the facilities are up and running, they would need people to manage and operate them,” say Erlebacher and Guimond.

What about the smell?

According to the designers, the composting would be completed in a closed system to reduce odors caused by temperature, oxygen levels, and the composition of the compost. These factors would also be closely monitored in an industrial facility. Plus, unlike your traditional backyard compost pile, the compost islands would be outfitted with bio-filters, further reducing the smell.

Is the project likely to get approved?

Considering New York City is piloting curbside composting, this project might go through. However, the designers say “implementing a project like this would require a huge amount of commitment and support, not just on the financial front, but from grassroots community groups to local and state government agencies.”

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About the Author ()

A graduate in English Literature from St. Stephen’s College, Delhi, India, Nupur also has an MBA from the Faculty of Management Studies, Delhi University. Nupur is currently trying to be as savvy a cook as she is with a book. She likes watching plays and sunsets. Nupur first lived in Kolkata and then for a decade in Delhi, still her favorite city.

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