According to the New York Times, in this city alone, 14 million tons of waste are thrown out yearly and 1.2 million residents are food insecure.

The following images are composed only of abandoned items found in Downtown Manhattan.



by Steve Cohen


Knowing that people in our own city are hungry and that children go to sleep without enough to eat is a moral outrage in a place as rich as this. One third of the garbage in the city’s waste stream is food waste. There are many groups working to recover and distribute food so some of what we discard goes to feed people, but inevitably, we will be adding food to our waste stream. The question then becomes: How do we turn food waste from garbage into a resource?

One way is composting. In Mike Bloomberg’s final State of the City address in 2013, he termed food waste New York City’s “final recycling frontier.” He proposed a city-wide plan of curbside organic waste collection, a program that is still in the process of rolling out. The basement of my apartment building includes a few of the city’s sealed brown compost cans, and a growing number of the city’s residents now have access to the new organic waste recycling system.

According to Emily S. Rueb of the New York Times:

“About 14 million tons of waste are thrown out each year. It costs the city almost $400 million

annually just to ship what it collects from homes, schools and government buildings (by rail, barge or truck) to incinerators or landfills as far away as South Carolina. (In addition, dozens of private companies put trucks on the road to take away refuse from office buildings and businesses.) The largest single portion of the trash heap is organics, or things that were once living. That apple core, that untouched macaroni salad, that slice of pizza and the greasy paper plate it was served on are heavy with moisture, which makes shipping expensive. As they decompose, they release methane, a greenhouse gas.”

While the curbside organic collection program began in 2013, New Yorkers have been composting their food waste for decades. Back in 1993, the New York City Department of Sanitation’s Bureau of Waste Prevention, Reuse, and Recycling created the NYC Composting Project. From 1993-2013, over 200 community composting sites were established, which either received support or were fully funded by New York’s Sanitation Department. At community composting sites, residents can bring organics, food scraps, and yard waste that are turned into fertilized soil.

In addition to expanding community composting, the City planned on starting industrial composting at the Hunts Point Food Distribution Center. At the

end of the Bloomberg administration and continuing seamlessly into the de Blasio years, the city expanded its efforts to increase organics collection through grants to start community composting projects and expansion of organics collection at greenmarkets. In May of 2012, there was a pilot composting project at 68 schools, and by 2014, the school composting program was in 400 schools across all five boroughs. Curbside collection started in May of 2013 in Staten Island. Although the program was voluntary, about four months later the program’s high participation rates led to the mayor’s decision to expand curbside organic pick-ups throughout the city.

The de Blasio administration recognizes that food and organic waste is a critical part to reaching the city’s goal of eventually achieving zero waste. The curbside organics collection pilot program is no longer an experiment and is expanding into Manhattan and parts of the Bronx. Eventually, the city hopes that all community board districts will have curbside collection. Event those without curbside collection can drop off their organics at drop off sites. These drop off and community composting sites accounted for 1,200 tons being diverted last year.


This series is made possible by the excess of food waste in Lower Manhattan. Each image presents findings from a single evening spent searching through garbage bags on sidewalks. This project evokes the criticisms of the 17th-century Dutch painters, such as Pieter Claesz and Rembrandt, who used decadent fruit and delicacies to depict the almost comical extravagance they were paid to capture. This is Your Garbage, This is Your Waste is a response to the evolution of consumer culture, its casual existence in systemic routines, and the neglect to address the resulting food crisis.


According to the New York Times, in this city alone, 14 million tons of waste are thrown out yearly and 1.2 million residents are food insecure.​


What can you do to help?


Shop at a farmer's market


Consider how much food you buy vs. how much food you need

and demand change!

Spread the word


Grow your own food/herbs