Managing the waste and recycling needs of the largest city in the U.S. is no easy feat according to the City of New York Department of Sanitation (DSNY). In 2014, Commissioner Kathryn Garcia accepted the challenge and has since helped develop and implement a wide range of initiatives that have had a positive impact on the City’s restaurant and foodservice industries.
Last month, under the tutelage of Kathryn Garcia, many of City’s key operators including restaurant and hotels and the vendor community that serves them came together in Brooklyn for a first ever conference. The New York City Department of Sanitation’s (DSNY’s) Foundation for New York’s Strongest hosted the NYC Food Waste Fair, a resource-fair-meets-trade-show held at the Brooklyn Expo Center.
New York City food industry organizations send more than 650,000 tons of usable food to landfills each year. Instead, that food could be used to feed people and animals, nourish soil, grow healthy food or create energy. The NYC Food Waste Fair’s goal was to provide businesses with the knowledge; tools and connections to build a waste prevention plan from scratch or expand existing programs.
“So much of what New Yorkers throw away is organic waste. Where some people see a problem, we see opportunity,” says Garcia. “With innovations like the NYC Food Waste Fair and the largest organics curbside collection service in the United States, recycling food is becoming as easy as recycling paper. Additionally, the Food Waste Fair fits into the city’s goal of sending zero waste to landfills by 2030, which is part of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s OneNYC plan.”
By pairing an expo-style event with workshops, panel discussions and live demonstrations, the NYC Food Waste Fair was created to bring together experts and provide food waste solutions for local businesses. The fair welcomed restaurant and fast food operators, grocery store owners, street vendors, manufacturers, wholesalers and building and custodial management.
Before joining DSNY, Garcia earned her bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and gained experience in the environmental world by working at the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) for about seven years.
Garcia points to the use of new technology as a key to her goal of creating a cleaner and safer system of trash collection. “We see an opportunity to synchronize the trucks that we use for collection with the waste stream,” Garcia noted. “If we access the available technology, we are able to see trends, implement education and achieve our goal of zero waste.”
“It’s also really important that our department and community understand that there’s been a change in lifestyle. We don’t have five daily newspapers anymore and people ordering on-line has led to tremendous increase in the amount of corrugated cardboard that we are dealing with.”
The next step with that comes a look at the relationship between the foodservice operator and the food distributor marketplace.
“We want to promote making a good decision upfront regarding the way fruits and vegetable and beef and seafood are packaged,” Garcia continued. “We are constantly looking for ways that plastic film and Styrofoam can be eliminated. “Bottom line is we want folks to be thinking about the impact on the waste stream and minimizing the footprint.”
On the vendor side of the event, was the backdrop of the controversy surrounding Garcia’s implementation of the commercial franchise zoning system in New York. In that scenario, theoretically a restaurant would be limited in terms of who they could contract to deal with their waste.
“Currently, there are a lot of inefficiencies in how collection happens in NYC and having multiple trucks pick up materials on the same block at different times during the day is really putting a lot of pressure on NYC’s street infrastructure,” says Garcia. “With this plan, we want to move very slow and steady to get the ball rolling because this system would affect a large number of businesses, and we want to make sure that their waste is getting removed in the most effective and efficient way possible.”
Garcia, a mother of two who lives in Park Slope, Brooklyn, was the former chief operating officer of the city’s Department of Environmental Protection, where she oversaw water supply, sewer operations and wastewater. She is the city’s 43rd sanitation commissioner and the second woman to hold the post. Emily Lloyd, hired by David Dinkins in 1992, was the first.
Kathryn Garcia has been vocal in her support of a pair of controversial Bloomberg-era programs: a waste-transfer station set to be built on East 91st Street in Manhattan, and a plan to force New Yorkers to separate food scraps from household trash for
Garcia and The NYC Food Waste Fair was a first step in teaching New Yorkers better habits and inspiring the industry to take a hard look at everything from garlic skins to peach pits and think about how they could be used instead of trashed.
To learn more about the NYC Food Waste Fair, visit their website.