I started composting a couple of years ago using two bins in my yard. Ever since then, I’ve dutifully collected fruit and veggie scraps, egg shells, and coffee grounds, alternating these “greens” with layers of “browns” — dead leaves from the oak trees in our yard. This spring I will harvest my first batch of compost and I don’t know if it’s possible to be more excited about moist mulch. That’s why Clio Chang’s Curbed story caught my eye. I’ve always wondered what happens in the industrial composting process and Chang’s piece does a terrific job going behind the scenes of a compost collection service that begins under the cover of darkness in Queens, New York.

This is the sorting phase of the process, and no fewer than six Waste Management employees have been assembled to take me around. First, we watch as the trucks line up to be weighed, since customers pay by weight to dump. “Is it priced by pound?” I ask. “Tons,” everyone responds in unison, and we all laugh at my inability to grasp orders of magnitude. One-third of the residential trash — some 4,000 tons daily — that New Yorkers throw away is food or yard waste that could be diverted from methane-emitting landfills. The heap of food scraps we are looking at, which has cartoon-like steam rising off the top, is massive, but only constitutes a tiny fraction of what it could be. There are pigeons resting and scavenging on its peak. Darryll Persad, the site manager, tells me that they have an air-filtration system and a deodorizer that puts out a scent to help control the odor. There are multiple scents to choose from, but Persad says, with a decisiveness that I can only dream of, that he “just orders cinnamon.” (Since all I smell is trash, I’ll just have to take his word for it.)