In another case study, Miflin profiles Martin Robertson, a building manager in Harlem who functions as a kind of compost concierge: Residents drop off their caddy of organic waste, and he consolidates it, washes out the containers, and returns them. This way, he sidesteps the unsavory problem of storing organics in a small, unventilated room.
A one-size-fits-all approach won’t work across various typologies of buildings, but the guidelines include a waste calculator, which architects can use to gauge what the waste burden might be, based on a building’s density.
Waste is a shapeshifting target—as consumption habits change, so will the fouled remnants of it. One of the report’s case studies takes stock of the uptick in a building’s cardboard boxes, the products of residents ordering goods online. In that scenario, Miflin says, a baler in the basement could help squash the unruly boxes, compacting them into a more manageable size.
On a more macro scale, the mechanics of garbage collection could be retooled by submerging containers underground to be raised by cranes, or by dedicating parking spaces to shared bins. Street vendors could use a card to access a series of sheds to drop things off without adding to existing piles.
The report lays out a business case for all this. The compost concierge says that his collection method means he doesn’t have to wash the chute as often, because it’s not smeared with rodent-attracting scraps of food. That saves time and money. Modest interventions at the front end could pay off later. Presently, commercial buildings aren’t required to designate any indoor space for storing recyclables. The consequence is that many end up stashed on the street. Good intentions are scuttled by economic realities, says Christina Grace, a food-systems consultant at Foodprint Group who collaborated on the report. “When real estate is $300 a square foot, do you want to put recycling in there?” One recommendation entails asking businesses to put together a storage plan from day one. “Getting them to have a plan would push the needle tremendously,” Grace says.
Despite a sizable compost program stationed at local farmer’s markets, New York City lags far behind Toronto and other major metros with sophisticated organics schemes. Since 2011, GrowNYC’s 55 drop-off sites have collected a total of 9.5 million pounds* of scraps—that’s less than half of 1 percent of the organic waste intercepted before it languishes in landfills, explained Emily Bachman, the compost program manager for GrowNYC, at a recent Food Tank Summit.
Intuitive interventions could help reverse course without shaking things up too much. “To make something normalized, it has to be as convenient as your current behavior,” says Bridget Anderson, DSNY’s Deputy Commissioner for Recycling & Sustainability. “That doesn’t have to be, ‘I roll out of my bed and I put it in a magic system,’” she adds—the key is that it’s not too onerous compared to the less-wasteful alternative. Good design, Miflin says, “should change behavior without people even noticing.”