KEEP GROWING: GrowNYC operates what was supposed to be their final food scrap drop-off day in Morrisania, Bronx. (PHOTO/Mia Hollie)

BRONX—A last-minute gift from an anonymous donor has kept a citywide composting program from landing in the trash heap.

GrowNYC, which provides compositing sites around the city and at greenmarkets and food stands, was bracing to lay off 65 employees by the end of the year and close down the program due to mid-year budget cuts announced by Mayor Eric Adams, according to Andrina Sanchez, communications lead at GrowNYC. 

But at the last minute, an anonymous donor provided enough private funding to keep GrowNYC’s composting business through June 2024, according to the environmental nonprofit. 

Avery Hotchkiss, a 22-year-old compost coordinator at the nonprofit, said he learned the program had been spared Tuesday night, when the organization’s president announced the anonymous gift at a meeting. 

“It’s been a full roller coaster,” Hotchkiss said. “Our jobs changed from talking to people about compost to talking about saving compost in New York City.” 

Employees were not told how much money the donor gave the organization, according to Hotchkiss.

The private funding will allow GrowNYC to continue to collect food scraps from eco-minded New Yorkers—but where that material may end up remains to be seen. The two nonprofits that have worked with GrowNYC to process most of its organic waste collections may still be affected by the budget cuts, according to Enmy Uribe, GrowNYC’s compost regional manager for the Bronx and Upper Manhattan.

‘Now is important to fight’

The city’s department of sanitation partners with seven organizations to collect, process and educate New Yorkers about compost. Those organizations include the Lower East Side Ecology Center and four botanical gardens that offer composting services, including the New York Botanical Garden and Brooklyn Botanic Garden, as well as Earth Matter NY and Big Reuse, two nonprofits that handle compost processing. 

All of them could be forced to shutter their operations by December 31, according to Chelsea Encababian, compost project manager at the NYC Compost Project hosted by Queens Botanical Garden.

“Now is important to fight for the remainder of the community composting programs, because we work hand-in-hand to not only get the food scraps from community members, but also compost and process it locally,” Encababian said. “Without the compost projects, including Queens Botanical Garden, there wouldn’t be a location in New York City to hyper-locally compost this material.”

GrowNYC and the group’s partners help divert 8.3 million pounds of organic waste from landfills each year, according to GrowNYC’s website. The organization has launched a petition urging Mayor Adams to reinstate funding to the Department of Sanitation for its NYC Compost Project, which in turn compensates the nonprofits. The petition had over 45,000 signatures as of Thursday.  

Mayor Adams’ Eliminate the Gap initiative, released in November and intended to trim the city budget, also calls for the delay of curbside composting sites in the Bronx and Staten Island. Originally intended to begin in March, that program has been pushed back to October, according to the city.  

The curbside composting sites already in existence in Queens and Brooklyn will continue, however. New Yorkers will still have access to the Sanitation Department’s composting bins around the five boroughs.

‘There’s so little resources given’

Two of those bins were recently removed from the Mount Hope neighborhood in the Bronx because the Sanitation Department said they weren’t used enough, according to Lucia Deng, 43, the municipal services chair of Community District 5 in the Bronx. 

Vincent Gragnani, the press secretary for the Department of Sanitation, confirmed that the department occasionally moves its bins to maximize use by residents.

“We have bins in Kingsbridge, Riverdale, University Heights, Highbridge, Mt. Eden and Grand Concourse neighborhoods–all of which you can see on the easy-to-use NYC Compost app,” he said in a statement. “Also, every Bronx resident will have the largest, easiest curbside composting program ever in about 10 months.”

But Deng, who now brings her food scraps to a drop-off site in Union Square, believes the Sanitation Department should have done better outreach in her neighborhood. 

“You can’t just drop this thing in a community that has never had these services,” Deng said. “You don’t do any education. And then, however many months later, you say, ‘Oh, well, it’s not being used so we’re taking it away.’”

ALL GONE: A DSNY Smart Compost Bin used to stand on the corner of Mount Hope Place and Walton Avenue. (PHOTO/Lucia Deng)

Deng said she hopes the agency brings additional outreach, and in multiple languages, to the borough before the program begins. 

“It just frustrates me that there’s so little resources given,” she said. “Like, we don’t even have a chance to contribute to this really amazing environmental program.”