Waste Not

Imagine eight million street-hardened New Yorkers separating scraps of food from their dinner plates and putting them aside to be recycled.

Yeah, right. What next? Telling us we can’t light up in a bar?

Oh, right.

Mayor Bloomberg’s new plan sounds either West Coast crunchy or earnestly European, something you figure the Swiss have been doing for 500 years or so.

Either way, it doesn’t sound like New York. But then again, New Yorkers of a certain age will remember when Ed Koch announced in the 1980s that henceforth all citizens of our great metropolis would be required to pick up after their dogs. Everybody thought he was crazy.

The mayor’s plan inevitably inspired a new round of criticism from those who see Mr. Bloomberg as the personification of the nanny state. The man insists that we order human-sized portions of soda, bans the time-honored custom of smoking in your friendly neighborhood gin mill and requires McDonald’s to post the number of calories in a Big Mac, medium fries and a Coke (1,150!).

And now this?

The knee-jerk criticism is misplaced. Think of food waste as a potential source of energy. Every scrap that gets turned into electricity is a scrap that isn’t taking up space in some leaching, smelly landfill.

The city hopes to recycle 100,000 tons of food scraps a year in a composting plant, which will then use the scraps to generate power. That would reduce food waste by 10 percent. The plan will be voluntary at first, but eventually it likely will become mandatory, as it is in several West Coast cities.

While it’s hard to imagine New Yorkers dutifully putting aside bits of meat or gobs of leftover potatoes for collection, there also was a time when it was hard to imagine New Yorkers picking up what their dogs left behind.

Just don’t ask us to recycle that. Please?