New York City has a big problem with trash, especially food waste. An innovative new program aims to up composting rates by allowing families to exchange food waste for locally grown produce.
As the most populous city in America, it’s no surprise that New York City produces a lot of trash. Just walk down any street in Manhattan after dark, and you’ll see much of it, stacked in miniature mountains up and down the sidewalk. Of the 12,000 tons of trash produced every day in the Big Apple, more than 35 percent is organic waste–vegetable peelings, eggshells, and other once-edible food that’s perfect for composting.
The problem is, almost no one in NYC composts. Although the city is launching a composting program this fall, it will only be voluntary. And if New York’s abysmal recycling rates are any indication, the vast majority will ignore it.
The key to getting people to compost (or any environmentally-responsible behavior for that matter) is providing the right incentive. When around 46 percent of a population is living near the poverty line, however, it better be a pretty darn good incentive. For those struggling to feed their families, what happens to an orange peel is not high on the priority list.
Luke Keller and Aly Blenkin, two students at Parson’s School of Deisgn, may have found the perfect way to address both the food waste and food poverty issuesin New York. The pair recently founded Hello Compost, a service that will work with Project EATS (a New York-based nonprofit focused on urban agriculture) to allow low-income families to trade their food scraps for locally-grown fresh food.
Here’s how it would work: Families put food waste into freezable, odor-blocking collection bags. The bags are designed by local students, made from canvas and feature bright colors. The bags are then delivered to Project EATS, where they are weighed and assigned a value that translates into credits for fresh produce, grown by local farmers. “Project EATS uses an iPad app to track progress–and appeal to the human drive to compete, similar to the gaming psychology that makes the Nike FuelBand so successful.”
The idea is brilliant in its simplicity. There’s no outdoor composter to build or stinky indoor compost to content with. The rewards are instantaneous and meet a real need for many New York City families. Once engaged, it’s hard to see why New Yorker’s wouldn’t want to trade their trash for edible treasure, but it’s getting them engaged that will be the challenge.
“We need to re-imagine the role of food waste from being a smelly, unattractive side effect of eating to an attractive resource for residents to positively impact their community and to help put fresh food on the table,” Blenkin told Fast Co. Design.
Pending approval from the New York City Housing Authority, Project EATS will launch the Hello Compost service this fall. Find out how you can participate or support the project by liking their Facebook page.
Images: Hello Compost/Project EATS & Fast Co. Design