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Restaurants look to contain NYC composting requirements

Business groups aren't turning their nose up at the city's plan to require hotels, stadiums, arenas and large-scale food businesses to separate organic waste from regular trash. But some industry leaders are raising fears that the new rule will be extended to the majority of New York City's 24,000 eating establishments.

The city will hold a public hearing Oct. 5 on its proposal to require certain businesses to collect food waste. The rule, which was announced in July and published in the City Record last month, would require composting by stadiums and arenas with at least 15,000 seats (Madison Square Garden, Yankee Stadium, Barclays Center, Citi Field and Arthur Ashe Stadium), hotels with at least 150 rooms (there are dozens) and food manufacturers and wholesalers with at least 25,000 and 20,000 square feet, respectively (Hunts Point Terminal Market and others).

Trade groups laud the environmental goals behind the new rule. They acknowledge that most of the businesses affected could likely absorb the costs associated with separating, storing and arranging for pick-up of food waste. But Andrew Rigie, executive director of the NYC Hospitality Alliance, warned against broadening the mandate to all food businesses.

"When asked about expanding the composting mandate Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia said, 'This is the first step, not the end,' " Mr. Rigie will testify at the hearing, according to a copy of his statement provided to Crain's. "We want to take this opportunity to caution the city against expanding required composting to include small restaurants until it is certain that there is sufficient infrastructure available to manage the compost and without posing undue burdens on our city’s restaurants, many of whom operate in small spaces that simply may not have the room."

Smaller restaurants could eventually find themselves in the cross-hairs. The 2013 law creating a residential pilot program for composting includes a provision that would apply to commercial businesses based on the sanitation commissioner's determination of regional capacity for collecting and processing the waste, and contemplates including food businesses as small as 6,000 square feet, said James Versocki, counsel of the New York City chapter of the New York State Restaurant Association.

"But that goal would take years of infrastructure-building," Mr. Versocki said. "You can't just wave a wand and make this happen."

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