City dwellers looking to dispose of organic material while keeping their communities green will have another way to pitch in amid the changing media landscape.

Those ubiquitous newspaper boxes that have lain dormant with the rise of the web have found new life – literally – thanks to the New York Compost Box Project. The brainchild of former tabloid newspaper designer Debbie Ullman, the project places boxes in the city as repositories for New Yorkers to get rid of their food scraps whenever it’s convenient for them.

“I see it as an urban intervention,” says Ullman, a master composter who spent more than a decade in graphics at the New York Daily News. “My goal is to make people more aware of the value and ease of composting, while at the same time making use of these boxes we all know are yesterday’s news. This process will encourage engagement with the boxes, creating an innovative, and unexpected experience.”


The New York City Department of Sanitation (DSNY) reports that a third of what New Yorkers throw away is food scraps. When this material is sent to a landfill, it adds to the city’s disposal costs and ultimately contributes to the rise in greenhouse gas emissions. When composted, food scraps and other organic waste become a nutrient-rich additive that improves soil quality for street trees and gardens. This reduces the need for fertilizers and pesticides, helps prevent erosion and suppresses certain plant diseases.

The New York Compost Box Project complements the DSNY’s Organics Collection program by offering an innovative way to divert food waste from landfills and raise awareness about urban composting.  Now, busy residents not fortunate enough to be on the DSNY’s pilot routes can compost at home, at community gardens and green markets, or recycle their discarded food 24/7, in one of the Compost Box Project’s repurposed newspaper boxes.

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Each box will be placed in a location that processes the scraps onsite. Currently, three boxes are in active use: at Earth Matter on Governor’s Island, at the Urban Garden Center on Park Avenue and 116th Street in East Harlem, and at the East Side High School Community Garden (East 11th Street in the East Village). Ullman notes that the composted product will be used to help revitalize soil locally, eliminating carbon emissions from transport.

These boxes really have gone to greener pastures! They are a nod to New York City’s once vibrant tabloid culture that, with the current demise of print journalism, is becoming obsolete. By up-cycling the former newspaper boxes, the New York Compost Box Project upholds the tradition of spirited, grassroots, for-the-people social change that many newspapers have embodied for generations.

“Composting in New York should be second nature,” adds Ullman. “By thinking outside the box, we can recycle old ideas and objects to make it easier for people to stop wasting their waste.”