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New York City Restaurants Could Soon Be Required to Compost

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The Sanitation Department will decide by next month, but there are a lot of big questions to address.

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By the beginning of next month, the city's Sanitation Department will decide whether to make restaurants – as well as hotels, catering companies, grocery stores, and other businesses – compost their food scraps.  According to Crain's, the department is currently examining the data to figure out how much waste all these businesses actually produce, and whether the composting facilities around the city (of which there aren't that many) have the capacity to handle all of it, as well as whether it would be possible to collect all of it without putting a lot more trucks on the streets. Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia says she plans to make the decision by July 1.

Restaurants are potentially on board, but Andrew Rigie, the director of the NYC Hospitality Alliance raises the same concern that new rules for restaurants so often raise: that it will cost more more money and require more work for little or no reward on the business end. That's an issue the Sanitation Department may have to face at some point down the road, but for now the biggest concern is whether the city has anywhere near the capacity to do this.

Right now about three percent of NYC residents compost through the city composting program, which is only available in certain neighborhoods of Queens and Brooklyn. The city hopes to expand the composting program to all of NYC by 2018, but even just doing that would require more composting facilities. Right now the nine facilities in the area can compost 100,000 tons of waste, but according to estimates, if all of the city's residents were to compost, they'd produce about a million tons of waste. There are only five new composting facilities under construction at the moment, probably not enough to handle all that, let alone however many thousands of tons more might be produced by restaurants. In order to really make it work on a larger scale, practically and economically, more facilities would probably need to be built within the five boroughs. But the prospect of a mound of decomposing food moving into the neighborhood is probably not going to be greeted with open arms by too many New Yorkers. So composting could come soon to New York restaurants, but there are some serious logistics to tackle before it does.

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