Air Pollution & Climate

How “Smart” Compost Bins Across NYC Can Lower Carbon Emissions and Combat Climate Inequality

Guest writer, Ava Rubinstein, a Summer 2023 intern at Mount Sinai, writes about the new “smart” composting bins in New York City. She writes that they allow local communities to reduce their carbon footprint in their own neighborhoods and help lower our global emissions.

The new “smart” composting bins in New York City allow local communities to reduce their carbon footprint in their own neighborhoods and help lower our global emissions.

By Ava Rubinstein, Environmental Medicine and Public Health Summer 2023 Intern

Ava Rubinstein, a high school junior in New York City, completed a summer 2023 research project on climate change and health equity, mentored by Perry Sheffield, MD, MPH, Associate Professor in the Departments of Environmental Medicine and Public Health, and Pediatrics at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. Outside of academics, Ava loves tennis, ice skating, baking, and volunteering.  

The new “smart” composting bins in New York City allow local communities to reduce their carbon footprint and help lower global emissions. These bins, first introduced in 2021, are a step towards climate equality, as they were initially implemented in areas most affected by climate change and subjected disproportionately to climate exposure, such as Astoria, Central and East Harlem, and the South Bronx.

Photo by Ava Rubinstein

The material collected in these bins is taken to facilities where the composting process converts food and plant waste into a useful resource and keeps it from contributing to carbon pollution.

Making composting easily accessible to communities across America is one substantial step toward solving our global climate crisis. The average American produces almost five pounds of trash each day. This trash is piling up in landfills, which are the third largest source globally of methane – a potent greenhouse gas contributing to climate change. Landfills are also a danger to surrounding communities, as they emit dangerous chemicals and harm water supplies. However, almost 30% of the trash in landfills can be reused or composted. Composting is the process of recycling food and other organic waste and turning it into soil rather than discarding it. It helps reduce our carbon footprint in two ways: by decreasing the methane emissions from our landfills, while also creating a resource that helps to grow plants that absorb toxic greenhouse gases from our atmosphere.

There have already been many composting success stories, including in San Francisco, where a large-scale composting program has been diverting more than 80% of organic waste since 2012. By implementing this program, they have prevented more than 90,000 metric tons of carbon emissions. This program represents the efforts of just one city, but the positive impact could be even more dramatic if expanded globally. Now New York City is expanding its composting program and the benefits will be both local and global.

In addition to providing a climate change benefit by reducing carbon pollution, composting through smart bins will positively impact quality of life and reduce air pollution. A unique feature of these bins in New York City is that they are mapped and unlocked by an app. Moving food waste into locked bins keeps this food source less accessible to rats, a pervasive problem in New York City. Rats not only spread diseases but also contribute to allergies and asthma triggers. In New York City, certain neighborhoods such as Central and East Harlem have a disproportionately high health burden from childhood asthma so reducing rat populations may be one way to help reduce asthma triggers. Additionally, these centralized bins are a step toward more efficient collecting routes and less truck traffic which can reduce traffic-related air pollution – another known contributor to asthma. Lastly, the reduced truck traffic can reduce noise which also may be connected to asthma and other health outcomes as it may disrupt sleep.