ROT IN THE CITY

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Every day dozens of trucks idle outside the Hunts Point Market in the South Bronx waiting to haul away the 100 tons of waste the open-air meat and produce center generates. In addition to subjecting the neighbors to the noise and fumes from all those garbage haulers, getting rid of that trash is no cheap feat: It costs the city and market combined about $140 a ton. And things will only get worse when the Fulton Fish Market moves next door from Lower Manhattan next year.

Or not. As part of the Bloomberg administration’s effort to solve the riddle of where and how to dump the city’s trash, the city Economic Development Corporation is investing in a study that could revolutionize trash disposal — by composting

Last month, the agency promised a contract to DSM-Environmental Services, a Vermont firm, to study the feasibility of building a facility to turn the market’s organic waste into compost. Although the city has been mulching its leaves in a handful of small compost facilities in city parks, the Hunts Point study represents the city’s first attempt to help a commercial market use composting to reduce waste. And with the city facing 13,000 tons of residential waste alone each day, any little bit helps.

“Hunts Point is an ideal space for building a composting facility because you have a fixed organic waste stream right there,” said Venetia Lannan, deputy director of composting for the Department of Sanitation. ” It’s an important option for us to explore.”

The city has already tried it on a much smaller scale: In 1996, DSM helped Rikers Island set up a compost system that now handles about half of its waste, at a cost of only $60 a ton. The processed food scraps are then used in island gardens and for landscaping.
Composting “could play a real part in the city’s environmental health,” said Michael Simpson of DSM, adding that fresh compost could help remediate brownfields all over the Bronx.

Whether it will work for the Hunts Point Market, and ultimately for other large commercial facilities, will depend on the cost of building and operating the plant — including controlling the smell — and marketing the compost. The city hopes it can put together a business plan “that would make a compost facility work in a public private partnership,” said Lannan.

Added Simpson, “It’s clear that we have to show that composting would represent a savings for the private sector as well as for the city.”

Still, the very prospect of a study pleases local environmental advocates, who’ve been concerned about the pollution associated with rising truck traffic at garbage transfer stations in their neighborhoods ever since the closing of the Fresh Kills land fill.

“Compost is just a much better byproduct than diesel gasses,” said Omar Freilla of Sustainable South Bronx. “One is toxic; the other helps plants to grow.”