Composting can feel just as alien to a city-dweller as metro systems and concrete can feel to a country mouse. But Debbie Ullman, a graphic designer who until 2013 worked for the legendary (but embattled) newspaper The New York Daily News, has one interesting conceit for getting New Yorkers used to the idea of turning their organic trash into treasure: transforming street-corner newspaper boxes into attractive collection sites with the punny monkier "The New York Compost."
New York's Department of Sanitation reports that over a third of what New Yorkers throw away is food scraps. Recently, they have begun piloting a limited compost collection program in a few far-flung neighborhoods, and Ullman's "urban intervention" hopes to complement this movement and, with its wit, create something more than the sum of its parts.
Ullman's compost boxes have been placed at locations that can benefit from picking up the compost locally: Earth Matter on Governor’s Island, the Urban Garden Center on Park Avenue and 116th Street in East Harlem, and the East Side High School Community Garden (East 11th Street in the East Village). Ullman particularly wanted to support the urban gardening trend because she feels it has a variety of cumulative, positive effects.
"People tend to feel more connected with their food when they grow it themselves. I think people waste less food when they grow it themselves because they know how much time and effort and love went into growing it," she said.
"Using their own compost just completes the circle and keeps it going around. Composting on-site, even as opposed to trucking it to Brooklyn or Queens or another state, keeps it local, eliminating carbon emissions from transport. Win-win."
This project has a particular significance for a graphic designer whose background is in print.
"One of the first things I did when I was laid off from the News was apply for the NYC Compost Project's Master Composter certification classes. I had been composting for nine years but wanted to know more. I felt like I contributed so much waste in the form of paper that I wanted to offset that somehow."
The changes in her life brought on by the decline of physical newspapers have brought Ullman's inspiration into bloom.