Organic Waste Management for Apartment Buildings

Per capita, the United States is one of the biggest waste generators in the world. We throw out almost 1,700 pounds of garbage per person, per year. For every 10 pounds of garbage we throw away per person, almost 4 of those pounds are made up of organic waste: things like egg shells, banana peels, coffee grounds and other food scraps.

Removing organic material from the waste-stream would be of great benefit for municipalities facing high tipping-fees, overflowing landfills and the negative impacts of incineration.

Aerobic composting is a fairly simple and inexpensive option for many single-family homeowners. However, for dense urban environments like New York City, composting one’s own organic waste can be almost impossible.


While there is no simple solution for organic waste management in urban systems, Ireland’s Environmental Protection Agency has undertaken a study to better understand how to manage organics and composting for dense living conditions. Their findings and recommendations can be found in their pdf report: Organic Waste Management In Apartments (if you are having trouble opening the file in your browser, right-click to download the report directly).

The report includes architectural design, facility management, municipal and policy case-studies for implementing organic waste management solutions. These include options for retro-fitting existing apartments as well as design-guidelines for future apartment developments. One interesting recommendation came from an apartment developer who suggested the planning department create a sort of waste/recycling/composting statutory requirement so waste storage was not an architectural afterthought. This reminds me of the purpose of New York City’s Active Design Guidelines. What if architects and planners elevated waste (both solid and liquid) to the forefront of design? The report’s conclusion reveals that “the long-term environmental and financial gains of separating organic wastes and diverting from landfill disposal will offset the initial start-up, implementation and scheme maintenance costs.”

Note: all chart images are screenshots from the Organic Waste Management In Apartments report. Featured Image by micamonkey, 2007. Downloaded from Flickr http://www.flickr.com/photos/micamonkey/491586640/ in May, 2012.

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3 Comments on “Organic Waste Management for Apartment Buildings”

  1. Michael June 19, 2012 at 3:39 pm #

    Very interesting post though it’s worth pointing out that post-consumer waste is estimated to be only 2% of the total waste stream, per EPA studies.

    To really reduce the waste stream, concentratnig on the manufacturing process would likely have greater returns.

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  2. alexsommer June 19, 2012 at 5:50 pm #

    Great point Michael! And to clarify for readers, solid waste is generally broken down into three major categories: Municipal Solid Waste (MSW), Industrial Solid Waste and Hazardous Solid Waste. Our residential waste makes up a little over half of all MSW, with the rest coming from businesses, offices, schools and government institutions. While only a portion of the entire waste stream, residential waste is what the public tends to deal with on a daily basis. Getting people to think about how waste is produced and dealt with goes a very long way to changing behavior and attitudes, leading towards a greater understanding of the entire waste stream. While composting won’t solve all of our waste problems, it is an amazing segue to a greater dialogue!

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  3. bethlebowitz June 25, 2012 at 6:13 pm #

    While separating organic waste does not have much of an effect on the waste stream – it does leave you with a green glow. Several of the city’s Farmers Markets have actual farmers who are happy to spend the day receiving organic waste from city dwellers. I noticed that Union Square has a organic waste collection spot, and a farmer who assures us it is worth it to them collects organic waste in the Park Slope Farmers market in Grand Army Plaza on Saturdays. Any tightly lidded bucket lined with a paper bag will do for weekly collection, and happily for me I have a spouse willing to shlep said bucket up to Grand Army Plaza, so he can enjoy the virtuous glow that comes from being very green.

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