Scaling up composting and building community

Name: Melissa Kozakiewicz

Title: Chief Innovation Officer

City: Jersey City, N.J.

Melissa Kozakiewicz calls herself a “convener of people and a cultivator of partnerships.” Both attributes are critical as she leads on scaling up Jersey City’s municipal composting program. It’s built on collaborations with the city’s health, public works, and sustainability agencies, plus schools, libraries, a synagogue, and other spots around the city where residents can go to deposit their kitchen scraps.

In its first two years, the program diverted more than 33,000 pounds of waste from landfills. That pace has been accelerating since July, when the program ramped up from three compost drop-off points to nine. The city is handing out two-gallon under-sink buckets for residents to collect the waste, and will soon pilot a curbside pickup service powered by electric cargo bikes. For residents with backyards, the city is distributing more than 500 free compost bins they can use to process kitchen scraps at home. In both models, Kozakiewicz said, the goal is “to meet our residents where they are.”

The composting push fits into Jersey City’s wider agenda around reducing greenhouse-gas emissions, which also includes investing in new electric garbage trucks and reconfiguring 20 miles of city streets to include bike lanes. Ironically, Kozakiewicz said, the pandemic has been a good time to implement such changes. “The reason composting has been so successful is that with COVID-19 and everything changing so dramatically, people really just want an opportunity to fix something,” she said. “By offering a program that allows people to do something right now, today, every day, that helps people feel like they’re making a positive impact.”

Pro tip: “When potential partners approach you, start with ‘yes’ and then work backwards from there to figure out the details.”

Celebrating public sector progress and innovation in cities around the world. Run by @BloombergDotOrg’s Government Innovation program.

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