Michael Nutter Should Steal Bloomberg’s Food-Composting Plan

The New York mayor's bold sustainability move ought to light a fire under our mayor.

There have been times lo these last five and a half years when Mayor Michael Nutter has seemed like a world-beater, when it’s felt like Philadelphia was a changed city, one regaining the swagger befitting a world-class metropolis.

These last few weeks, however, have pointedly not felt like that. The mayor’s policies and legacy feel like they’re in the midst of a sort of public referendum in the wake of the tragic building collapse and suspected failings at L&I. Which may or may not be fair. To pin the ongoing dysfunction of any one of the city’s many historically flawed agencies on a particular mayor is a tough sell, at least if one’s being intellectually honest with oneself. Because, y’know, how much can one man do?

But then one looks 90 miles to the north and sees New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg — a politician so adept at passing progressive and/or controversial legislation that he looks like a man playing pickup basketball against a bunch of little kids. It’s enough to give one a serious case of mayor envy.

Yesterday, for instance, as reported in The New York Times, Bloomberg essentially posterized Nutter when he announced a pilot program for food composting along with his intention to roll it out citywide by 2015–16. Food composting, where food waste (35 percent of the city’s annual haul, according to the mayor) is diverted from landfills and turned into nutrient-rich natural fertilizer or processed into electricity via biogas — is one of those pillars of sustainability that Nutter’s vaunted Greenworks plan doesn’t talk much about. (Back in 2008, the administration shuddered at the thought, and beyond an impressive leaf composting operation in Fairmount Park, only officially “encourages household composting.”)

New York, of course, is not a pioneer in this. San Francisco (natch) has been collecting compost for 15 years, and three years ago mandated composting for all residents and businesses. Cities such as Portland, Seattle, Boulder and the like have followed suit. And now Bloomberg, based on the success of a few pilot programs that brought unexpectedly high participation, is making the strong move to do what’s right environmentally and fiscally, squawks of “nanny state” be damned. All in the final year of his final term, to boot (no lame duck here). It’s the right thing to do because, like smoking in the workplace and obesity epidemics, trash profoundly affects the physical and financial fitness of a city, and part of the social contract of dense urban living is making smart, sometimes difficult choices for overall quality of life.

That Bloomberg has accomplished this on the heels of a crisis of his own — the devastation Superstorm Sandy rained down on his city — is even more impressive.

It all goes a long way toward explaining why so many are looking to Bloomberg as a template for Philly’s next mayor. (Has anyone, y’know, asked Bloomie to think about an extended visit to Philadelphia when his term is up?)

It’s also why Nutter needs to deal swiftly and decisively with the current L&I fiasco and get back to the business of pushing bold, important initiatives for the betterment of the city. It’s much too early for Nutter to be a lame duck — the city can’t afford it.