High-Tech Bins for Compostable Waste, First in U.S., Piloted Downtown

At the kickoff of the Downtown Alliance compost bin program in December, Tony Durfee, an executive with the environmental technology company emz, demonstrates the firm's product. Photo: Carl Glassman/Tribeca Trib

Dec. 12, 2021

Dumping your compostable food scraps Downtown just got easier, and a lot more high tech.

New compost bins, opened at the touch of a smartphone, are now in 10 Lower Manhattan locations—mostly around the Financial District—as part of a pilot program that is the first of its kind technology in the nation.

Unlike most drop-off sites, which are open during limited hours, these bins from the environmental technology company emz are always accessible. (See map below.)

“It’s not always easy to find someplace to drop our food scraps,” said Jessica Lappin, president of the Downtown Alliance, the program’s sponsor. “There’s no time like today to takes one’s leftovers and give them back to the planet.”

A free smartphone app recognizes when it is near one of the bins. A tap on the container’s name on the screen opens the lid. After the scraps or plant and yard waste are deposited, the user pulls a lever to close it. 

(To access the app, scan the QR code here, on the Downtown Alliance website, or on one of the bins.) 

It is estimated that one-third of the waste that ends up in landfills (emitting greenhouse gases such as methane) could be composted and used in the city’s parks and gardens as well as turned into renewable energy. The city’s Department of Sanitation handles the waste and distributes it to local and regional composting facilities. 

Sanitation Commissioner Edward Grayson called the program “a marriage of good intentions and opportunity. Everybody wants to do the right thing, but how do you compost if you don’t know how to do it? This is exactly how everybody in Lower Manhattan can make those good choices.”

The program could be rolled out city-wide if the technology proves itself over time, and if people take advantage of it, Lappin said, noting that the program will start slowly “because the neighborhood is coming back.

We really hope that this is a success,” she said. “We’re counting on the neighborhood to make it one.”