Teen entrepreneur collects New Yorkers' food scraps for compost

Several days a week on her morning walk, Laura Smith makes a stop at West 86th Street and Broadway to drop off a bag of food scraps. Smith uses 3Z Compost's bin, which is run by high school senior Devin Milberg.

Milberg started the collection company in March as part of a school entrepreneurial club project when he realized the only composting option for his family was to drop off scraps at a weekly farmers market.

"It took a lot of effort and was rather inconvenient," Milberg said. "So I thought that I would try and make composting more convenient by setting up daily drop-off sites outside of highly trafficked commuter lines."

New York City offers weekly organic waste drop-offs across the city and launched a composting pilot program in residential buildings in 2013, which currently serves 3.5 million New Yorkers. But a citywide expansion of that program is on hold.

Milberg now has two collection sites along the No. 1 subway line. He has plans to add more.

Milberg charges customers $1 per compost bag to cover his costs. He stores the bins at a local church and pays a waste hauler to bring it to composting facilities in New Jersey and Queens where it is turned into a soil additive or used to make natural gas.

The small change can have a big impact. Food scraps, yard waste, and soiled paper make up a third of all of New York City's trash, according to the Department of Sanitation. In landfills, those scraps contribute to harmful greenhouse gas emissions.

"It takes a little while to build up but now we're starting to collect more and more compost," Milberg said.

Going forward, Milberg is looking to perhaps automate some of the bins. He is also looking for a corporate sponsor to help him cover costs.