Instead of just tossing your orange peels, coffee grinds, egg shells and table scraps into the garbage can, New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg is proposing a plan that would require residents separate compostable food items from their regular refuse.

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The New York Times reported Deputy Mayor Caswell Holloway IV saying recent pilot programs have seen strong engagement from residents, giving officials hope that such a requirement might take hold if rolled out on a city-wide basis.

Starting off, the city is expected to announce its hiring of a plant to process 100,000 pounds of compostables as part of a voluntary program. The Times reported officials saying the program would become mandatory within a few years.

“This is going to be really transformative,” Holloway told the Times. “You want to get on a trajectory where you’re not sending anything to landfills.”

Watch this report from WPIX about the initiative:

The Times reported Ron Gonen, a sanitation commissioner for recycling and sustainability, saying that the city could save an estimated $100 million per year if the composting program sees strong participation, because the city would be shipping less refuse to out-of-state landfills. Some of the organic compost could be used as fertilizer or converted into energy, according to Gonen.

So far, about 150,000 single-family homes, 100 apartment buildings and 60 schools are slated to participate in the voluntary program, depositing compostable items into smaller bins that are then dumped into a larger receptacle, which the city’s sanitation department picks up.

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But the Times pointed out that although the reception of pilot versions of the program have gone well, the city itself only recycles 15 percent of its waste, and more than 75,000 citations were issued by sanitation within a 12-month period for failure to recycle properly.

Aside from participation of residents and businesses — the Times reported that although the commercial sector’s trash is handled privately, the city could mandate they separate compost — another factor in the composting program is the impending change in mayor:

A central question for the next mayor and City Council will be when to make residential recycling of food waste mandatory, with violators subject to fines. Garbage disposals remain relatively rare in the city.

[Public Advocate and mayoral candidate Bill] de Blasio called diverting trash from landfills “crucially important to the environment and the city’s fiscal health” and said he would like to have a mandatory program within five years.

[City Council speaker and another candidate, Christine Quinn,] said the City Council would take up a bill this summer to require pilot programs across the city to ensure that voluntary recycling of food waste continues, regardless of who is mayor.

She said a mandatory program should be in place by 2016.

“We’re going to lock it in,” she said. “When New York makes composting part of everyday life, every other city will follow through. This is going to create an urban trend.”

Mayor Bloomberg is set to leave office at the end of this year. The Times reported him calling this initiative the city’s “final recycling frontier.”

Read more details about the city’s plans and how the pilot program went in the New York Times’ full report.

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