BK ROT: NOT YOUR AVERAGE WASTE DISPOSAL SERVICE
by Marina Weiss
Have you ever wondered where Greene Hill Food Co-op’s compost goes? Since March 2019, we’ve partnered with BK ROT, a local organization that shares our commitments to sustainability and our local community, to manage our organic waste. BK ROT is New York City’s first bike-powered, fossil fuel-free composting service. The organization also provides accessible, educational jobs to emerging environmental leaders while providing opportunities for our community to fight climate change, environmental racism, and gentrification.
BK ROT was founded in 2013 by Sandy Nurse and a high school junior named Victor in a church courtyard, where they dismantled a Nativity scene to construct four small compost bins. Since then, BK ROT has grown into a community built around transforming food waste into a renewable resource, incorporating the contributions of a growing circle of neighbors and neighboring businesses. BK ROT operates on a radical Zero Waste model, hiring local youth of color to bicycle compost collected from community partners such as Greene Hill Food Co-op to their compositing site and wildlife garden, Know Waste Lands, in Bushwick. They also bring free organic waste to community gardens and urban farms’ on-site composting systems. This decentralized processing allows for increased composting capacity, and supports the growth of local food in community gardens, helping to combat food deserts, increasing community access to healthy, sustainable, local food options, and working to counteract environmental racism.
BK ROT has an impressive environmental impact. In 2018, their team biked over 1,800 miles, saving 609 gallons of diesel fuel, and keeping 7 tons of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. They composted 71 tons of food waste from community partners, including Greene Hill Food Co-op. They also distributed 35 tons of nutrient-rich compost, including donating 30 tons to local urban farms and community gardens, selling .5% of the remaining 5 tons to retail stores, and making the remainder available to the community for pickup by donation on their site.
BK ROT also has a significant educational impact, offering regular tours and informing visitors about sustainable waste practices, composting processes, and microbiology. In 2018, they welcomed groups from OffBeet Compost, a food scrap collection and composting program from the Greater Lowell region of Massachusetts, Farm School NYC’s Growing Soils class, Finca Conciencia in Vieques, Puerto Rico, the Black Seed Brigade of New York City, and Make the Road New York’s summer youth group, among others.
In the years ahead, BK ROT envisions expansion along many dimensions. Victor, now operations manager, began a pilot project, Rabbit Roots, to meet the demand for residential compost pick-up that arose following NYC’s termination of the curbside organic waste removal program in 2017. BK ROT has been instrumental in advocating for higher zero waste and equity standards in the new Commercial Waste Zones policy, which was approved by the NYC City Council in March of 2019, and which includes higher inclusion rates of Minority and Women Owned Businesses in the zoning bids.
BK ROT’s social, environmental, nutritional and political impact are impressive for such a small organization. Our Co-op is lucky to have such an amazing community partner in promoting youth leadership, supporting community access to healthy food, combating environmental racism and recycling our organic waste sustainably. Check out their website for more information on their work and to learn more about how you can get involved or purchase some compost of your own.