The Western Queens Compost Initiative turns food scraps into a greener neighborhood

Compost Bins at Sunnyside Greenmarket Western Queens Compost Initiative

Through crowdfunding and partnerships with city parks, the Western Queens Compost Initiative (WQCI) opened in 2009, giving us another way to participate in the local green community, like joining a community supported agriculture (CSA) program. WQCI manages the salvaged food scraps, helping the organic matter decompose into nutrient-rich compost. After this process, the “black gold” is used to enrich soils around street trees and in community gardens throughout western Queens, and at Brooklyn Grange, a one-acre rooftop farm in Long Island City. In other words, your peach pits and tangerine peels can promote positive growth of all kinds—plant growth and economic growth, for starters—in western Queens.

Consider saving your food scraps each week and dropping them off at Two Coves Community Garden or the Greenmarkets at Socrates Sculpture Park, Sunnyside, or Jackson Heights, where WQCI has set up collection sites. The group estimates they will be taking in almost 2,000 pounds of food scraps a week during market season this year. That’s 2,000 pounds of material that would otherwise be thrown in the garbage and trucked away—but due to the efforts of WQCI, it can be put to good use right in the neighborhood.

Sunnyside Greenmarket Drop-Off Site Western Queens Compost Initiative

 

Besides collecting, processing, and delivering western Queens residents’ food scraps, WQCI also engages the public and promotes other composting practices in the borough. This part of the project’s mission is accomplished through community events such as urban composting workshops at Socrates Sculpture Park—as well as just having a regular presence at neighborhood farmers markets.

The project has tons of support from people and organizations in NYC, starting with funding through Kickstarter, Ioby, the Citizens Committee for NYC, and Partnerships for Parks. Then in 2011, WQCI merged with Build It Green! NYC (a huge used building supplies store in Astoria) and obtained funding for staff through the Greening Western Queens Fund of North Star Fund. And this year, WQCI became a partner with the NYC Compost Project, a division of the Department of Sanitation’s Bureau of Waste Prevention, Reduction, and Recycling.

Stephanos Koullias, co-founder and program manager, believes that WQCI “has not only brought compost and composting into the awareness of the public, but has played a role in transforming the way the city considers waste management.” It’s easy to see how the system that has been developed here in western Queens to reinvest food scraps and reduce the amount of valuable material that is thrown in the garbage could be replicated in other neighborhoods.

So how can you help? First of all, bring your kitchen scraps in a reusable container to a participating drop-off location. If you want to do more, WQCI is always looking for volunteers to help run drop-off stations at weekly Greenmarkets, and to get their hands dirty working at compost processing sites like Two Coves Community Garden or Brooklyn Grange. Contact Louise Bruce at louise@bignyc.org to find out about current volunteer needs.

 

Joanna Eng is a Sunnyside-based writer covering arts, culture, and all things green. She loves biking, books, public parks, and Southeast Asian vegetarian food.