These Compost Islands Would Turn NYC's Garbage Into Gold

The average New Yorker generates about three pounds of trash every day, and a huge amount of that is food waste—which could be composted, if only we had the space. Enter "Green Loop," a proposal to build massive composting islands off the coastline of NYC.

"We send trucks millions of miles every year, creating traffic, noise pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions, all of this so that our waste can be landfilled, where it then rots and creates even more greenhouse gas," explain the designers at PRESENT Architecture, the New York-based firm behind the proposal. "It's a big, dirty problem."

Instead, PRESENT proposes keeping the trash—some of it, at least—closer to the city. Trucks would pick up the organic waste just as they do normal trash, but rather than hauling it out to landfills, they would deposit it at one of dozens of coastal processing sites around the boroughs.

This huge network of artificial islands would take over at least 30 percent of the city's garbage—which is a massive amount considering that we generate some 14 million tons of trash every year.

These Compost Islands Would Turn NYC's Garbage Into Gold

These Compost Islands Would Turn NYC's Garbage Into Gold

What happens when the waste arrives at the island? It's pushed through the standard stages of composting, albeit at a huge scale, and put back into the world as nutrient-rich soil.

These Compost Islands Would Turn NYC's Garbage Into Gold

These Compost Islands Would Turn NYC's Garbage Into Gold

The upper level of these islands would be occupied by public parkland, some 12 acres for each site, drawing New Yorkers out onto the water and increasing the city's green spaces exponentially.

These Compost Islands Would Turn NYC's Garbage Into Gold

These Compost Islands Would Turn NYC's Garbage Into Gold

If the images look familiar, it's probably due to the similarity of PRESENT's idea to that of Plus Pool, the two-year-old proposal to create a floating pool between Brooklyn and Manhattan. That project, too, has a dual purpose: Both to provide public space to citizens and to filter the East River's notoriously grimy water. Both concepts stem from (former) Mayor Bloomberg's Vision 2020 plan, which aims to reclaim the New York's blighted waterfront neighborhoods.

These Compost Islands Would Turn NYC's Garbage Into Gold

If you look back even further, though, you'll see that these are far from novel concepts.

Back in 1924, an engineer writing in Popular Science proposed another idea to make use of the East River: Fill it in. By creating two dams between Williamsburg and the Bronx, the design would've turned the river into a massive traffic artery. It would've been a huge mistake—and luckily, the terrible idea had no legs.

These Compost Islands Would Turn NYC's Garbage Into Gold

But it's interesting to see how time has changed the way urban planners—and New Yorkers—think about the city's natural resources. What a difference 90 years makes. [PRESENT Architecture; Curbed]