NYC Composting: A Peak Behind the Plastic Curtain

Capitalists use “greenwashing” in an attempt to show they are making an actual effort to save this planet for the next generation. The New York City curbside compost program is a prime example. Over the last few years, the NYC Department of Sanitation has vacillated on whether or not to continue the program. But our latest commissioner, Jessica Tisch, seems determined to make it stick.

I’m an NYC sanitation worker, and I think New Yorkers should know exactly what happens to their food scraps and yard waste after they put it out on the curb. I appreciate their efforts. Separating compost from garbage makes my job that much easier. But unfortunately, it’s like separating fruits from meats before tossing them in a blender: it doesn’t make a difference in the end.

New Yorkers should know exactly what happens to their food scraps and yard waste after they put it out on the curb. / Image: Socialist Revolution

We have split body trucks—one half devoted to garbage, the other devoted to compost. Compost is a much smaller portion of curbside waste compared to garbage. As a result, we usually dump garbage loads every single day, while the compost side only needs to be dumped about twice a week. I’m usually the guy dumping these compost loads. Being one of the richest cities on the planet, you might imagine this compost dump is on the cutting edge of technology. The commissioner and the city are certainly using this program to show off their commitment to the planet. Why would they cut any corners?

Every Wednesday and Saturday, trucks from all over Queens race to Liberty Avenue to be the first to get in line to dump. Tucked behind a row of chop shops and private scrap yards lies the lowest bidder for the city’s compost contract. We try to form an orderly line in our DSNY garbage trucks, while private contractors in white vans or Pense rentals race around us to offload private construction waste. Luckily, the dump decided this year to hire a worker to actually help us safely back up the 100 feet onto the weigh scale. If OSHA caught a glimpse of this dump, there would be hell to pay. At least, I hope so.

Once I’m on the scale, I hand my ticket to the worker who asks: “just organics?” He darts between the moving trucks like a Frogger pro, handing the ticket off to the weigh station before waving me onwards into the dump. I need to be careful and check my mirrors. Just five feet to my right, workers are changing out of their work clothes in a shed the size of an outhouse. They often use the hose for a quick shower after their long shifts. I continue backwards a dozen more feet, wishing I had a backup camera in the older truck I’m driving. One of the trickiest things about this backup is that I’m facing east. One glance in the side-view mirrors and I’m blinded by the setting sun. Once I manage to make it into the shadows, the true picture of NYC’s compost program comes into sight.

I squeeze into the corner of the wide open warehouse where piles of waste are shoved. This isn’t just where our compost is dumped. Private companies are here dumping their garbage as well. Contractors dump sheetrock, nailed boards, and broken bathroom tiles. In the corner closest to me is an ancient excavator with a large four-pronged scoop, like one of those claw machine games from the arcade. It lifts the compost and dumps it into a hopper. It leads to a contraption that looks like a large iron lung with a conveyor system attached to it. The ramped conveyer leads to an empty container labeled “NYC compost.”  The entire thing is powered by spinning belts and looks like something my grandfather could have built in his garage.

This is where the real horror sets in. As I eject the compost from my truck, it joins the rest of the garbage on the floor. I’ve seen TVs, plastic bottles, plastic garbage bags, toys, fax machines, and every other manner of nonrecyclable waste get scooped up by the front end loader and piled into the “compost corner.”  The excavator indiscriminately picks up everything in there, like a hungry beast. Once it regurgitates its meal into the hopper, gears whirl and everything is chewed up. Now, perhaps magnets could separate the metals from all the Christmas trees and Halloween pumpkins I just dumped, but what about all those plastics I watch pouring into the hopper? I know for a fact those black garbage bags are not biodegradable. Unless this iron lung has NASA-grade technology beneath its rusted surface, nonrecyclables must be flooding through the whole contraption.

The end product, labeled high-quality NYC compost, is destined to contaminate more of this planet. / Image: Wil540 art, Wikimedia Commons

The end product rolls off the conveyor belt, quickly filling the container beneath it. That container will get labeled high-quality NYC compost, destined to contaminate more of this planet with microplastics and other poisonous waste. In the class enemy’s eyes, that’s someone else’s problem.

The people who run these operations do not care about the environment. They are unconcerned about microplastic contamination. They care about their “green” image, getting reelected, and—above all—keeping big profits flowing to their real constituents: the capitalists. Once the workers of the world run the recycling programs, we will never allow them to fall into such shambles. We cannot allow these capitalist monsters to sacrifice our future. Let’s bring the dishonesty of these officials out of the shadows and into the open for the proletariat to see. Our fight for communist revolution is not only for the well-being of today’s workers, but to ensure the next generation have a world to live in.

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