Last week, Community Board 2 voted unanimously to write a letter in support of letting Big Reuse stay at the Long Island City site, and recommended a new 10-year lease agreement with the option for renewal.
CB2 members spoke in favor of the outdoor facility, which composts more than one million pounds of organic waste per year.
“To me, we should keep this, we should be building them in every neighborhood,” said Sheila Lewandowski. “To remove something that is so critically important, that is going backwards.”
Mary Torres, a CB2 member from Long Island City, said composting is an important way for everyday people to directly make an impact on climate change. She called for finding Big Reuse more resources for its work.
“You wouldn’t even know there was a composting site there,” she added. “That’s how clean it is.”
Big Reuse is one of seven partners on the NYC Compost Project, an initiative created by the Department of Sanitation in 1993 to provide New Yorkers with the knowledge and opportunities to compost locally.
It has been operating at the Queensbridge site since 2011, and the organization entered into a license agreement with the Parks Department in May 2018 to use the site to compost local food scraps and other organic waste.
In addition to diverting waste from landfills, which then keeps methane out of the atmosphere, the group also gives away the compost to hundreds of community groups, including the Parks Department, to improve soil in community gardens, street trees and schoolyard gardens.
“Rather than putting waste in other communities, we can use it to green New York City and improve street tree beds,” said Justin Green, founder and executive director of Big Reuse.
Green said prior to its function as a composting site, the Parks Department-owned lot under the Queensboro Bridge was used as storage by private construction firms for over a decade. Big Reuse worked with DSNY to clean up the garbage, pave and landscape the lot.
Last December, however, Big Reuse’s three-year lease with the Parks Department ended. Though the agency granted the organization a six-month extension until June 2021, Green said the department is “kicking out” the composting site and others like it on Parks-owned land across the city.
“Commissioner [Mitchell] Silver is against working with groups like ours to compost on Parks land,” he said. “It makes no sense.”
The site’s potential closure comes at an especially troubling time for composting efforts in New York City. Last March, DSNY eliminated its curbside composting collection program due to budget cuts.
The City Council later allocated some funding to reactivate NYC Compost Project facilities and reopen local food scrap drop-off sites in all five boroughs. Green said composting sites like theirs is one of the only ways to compost after the curbside collection program was cut.
Since the extension, Green said Big Reuse has submitted thousands of resident letters in support of remaining on site. The City Council also hosted a joint oversight hearing about the issue, and local elected officials have expressed their support.
Rather than moving, Green said his organization wants to stay in the current location and ask the Parks Department instead to use their space more efficiently.
“There’s more land underneath the bridge where they can find space for operations,” he said.
A Parks Department spokesperson said that the agency entered into its temporary agreement with Big Reuse based on the understanding that the group was to look for an alternative permanent location when the license expired at the end of last year.
DSNY will work with the organization to identify a new and suitable space to house their composting operations, the spokesperson said.
Further complicating the disagreement is the department’s $11 million renovation of Queensbridge Baby Park, an adjacent space that the agency said is being converted into usable recreation space.
The spokesperson noted that the space under the Queensboro Bridge is prohibited for recreational use, so the department is planning to use it for regional operations that are currently taking place at Queensbridge Baby Park.
The Parks Department has already hosted two visioning sessions for the design of the refurbished Queensbridge Baby Park, but the spokesperson said the project is dependent on Big Reuse vacating its current composting site.
“As the caretaker of our city’s 30,000 acres of parks, of which 10,000 are natural areas, composting has long been a regular part of our sustainable management practices,” Silver said in a statement.