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Composting workers call for program’s full restoration

Another 75 could be laid off by summer


Workers who support New York City’s community composting ecosystem rallied on the steps of City Hall Thursday to call on Mayor Eric Adams and the City Council to fully fund the eight nonprofits that collect and process food scraps around the city.

To comply with the initial 5-percent budget cut called for by the Adams administration last year, the Department of Sanitation cut the entirety of the $3 million community composting budget. Dozens of workers at Big Reuse, the Queens Botanical Garden and other composting nonprofits had already been laid off as a result.

Composting workers at GrowNYC who are unionized with the Retail Wholesale and Department Store Union were also set to lose their jobs because of the cuts until an anonymous donor stepped in and funded those jobs. However, GrowNYC management has told the unionized employees, who call themselves the GrowNYC Workers Collective, that the anonymous donor’s funding runs out May 20, a month earlier than expected.

More than 50 composting workers, who also help to educate New Yorkers on composting benefits, at the nonprofit will lose their jobs that day if the city — or someone else — doesn’t step in. Another 25 other GrowNYC employees will be laid off June 30 when the organization expects public funding to run out.

‘The effect will be devastating’

More than a dozen members of the GrowNYC Workers Collective argued at Thursday’s rally that if they lose their jobs, it’ll be bad both for the environment and for the New Yorkers who rely on local community composting drop-off points.

“We need to restore the funding and have compost be legislated and part of the infrastructure of the city,” Sitra Bowman, an education and engagement lead at GrowNYC who teaches children how to separate their food waste for compost, told The Chief after the rally.

“The effect of these cuts will be devastating,” she added. “The mayor has talked about rat mitigation or getting rid of rodents, and we will see those problems get worse as compost is not being utilized and food waste is thrown out in regular garbage."

Already, some of the waste that GrowNYC workers collect at the organization’s 52 food scrap drop-off sites throughout the city is being delivered to an industrial compost facility on Staten Island because the non-profits that process that waste don’t have enough funding.

GrowNYC did not immediately return a request for comment on the potential layoffs and service disruptions.

Big Reuse had to lay off 16 employees, has closed a compost processing site and is planning to close one of its two remaining sites by June, Gil Lopez, one of the nonprofit's three remaining employees, told The Chief.

"If we don’t have a place to process the scraps locally and at a community scale, you don’t have community composting no matter how many food scrap drop-offs you have,” said Lopez, the group’s compost event coordinator. “Our funding is such a small amount it's really hard to justify cutting it. It's a rounding error in the city's budget."

He added that some of the GrowNYC delivery drivers who used to drop off compost at BigReuse sites now just take the food scraps to the Staten Island facility or elsewhere.

Council support

Workers rallied on Thursday just ahead of the City Council’s Committee on Sanitation and Solid Waste Management’s preliminary budget hearing. Council Member Shaun Abreu, the committee chair, and several other Council members joined workers at the rally. Abreu told workers that nearly the entire Council supports the composting workers and wants to see funding for the composting initiatives restored and extended.

“When you take away community composting, you're robbing people of their civic engagement,” Abreu, who represents parts of upper Manhattan, told The Chief after the rally. "We can’t rob people of contributing to waste diversion, which, in the aggregate, has a huge difference in our environment.”

Abreu introduced Benny Safdie, the actor and director of “Uncut Gems” and a supporter of the composing program by saying, “It’s time to uncut the budget.”

Speaking to the assembled workers, Safdie, a native of the Upper West Side, said he has a child in a New York City public school who he wants to learn about composting. “It's actually very funny to me that the mayor spent all this time trying to find a rat czar when the solution is containers holding our organic matter that doesn’t go in the trash,” Safdie said during the rally, referring to Kathleen Corradi, the city’s first-ever rat czar. “This is the easiest thing to do to save [the planet]. It's no skin off our backs.”

City Hall did not reply to a request for comment on the cuts.

City Council leadership, including Speaker Adrienne Adams and the chair of the Committee on Finance, Justin Brannan, have previously spoken out in support of community composting and have repeatedly criticized the budget cuts implemented by the mayor. The city has already reversed budget cuts at both the FDNY and the Parks Department and further cuts scheduled for this spring were canceled by Mayor Adams because the city’s financial outlook improved.

Despite these rollbacks, Abreu isn’t hopeful that Adams will roll back the cuts to community composting without Council intervention.

“Nothing gives me hope until I see it in the flesh,” he said. “If I see the money being restored in the mayor's executive budget, which is going to come out in the next few weeks, then that goes past hope — it gives me certainty. I don’t want hope right now; I want certainty that we are actually getting community composting done."


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