Recycling in NYC

Here we go.  Week 1 of The Rubbish Diet is here!   I’ll be tracking my household generation of waste and recyclables over the next 8 weeks.

I live in New York City.  Since recycling laws vary widely across the United States from states to counties to municipalities it is important to note that NYC does things a little bit differently than other areas.

First of all there are separate recycling regulations for businesses and for residents.   All commercial businesses must contract with a private carter to pay for waste removal. All residential waste is collected by the Department of Sanitation (DSNY).  There is no charge for this service.

That’s right.  The city of New York collects residential waste and recyclables for free. Of course it is paid for through various taxes, but there is no direct financial incentive for an individual household to generate less waste.

Recycling is mandatory.  There are two main recycling streams residents are asked to separate: mixed paper (and cardboard) and glass/metal/plastics.   Cardboard is usually a no-brainer.  Mixed paper includes anything paper.  Glass/Metals/Plastics is where people get a little confused.  Beverage cartons and juice boxes go in this stream.  Only plastic bottles or jugs can go here, not other rigid plastic containers. Glass bottles and jars, and aluminum and tin cans (and clean foil) are ok.

DSNY primarily uses rear-load trucks for residential trash collection.  Trash pick-up is once or twice per week.  My pick-up is on Mondays and Thursdays.

Recyclables are picked-up in a split rear-load truck – one truck with two compartments. One side is for paper/cardboard, the other for glass/metal/plastics.  Recycling pick-up is once per week.  My pick-up is on Thursdays.

Everything must be placed curbside for collection.  Residents are not provided with any containers, so it doesn’t matter if you pile bags outside or if you use containers.  If you do use containers they must be 18-32 gallon capacity, have lids, and be properly labeled (recycling decals are free).  Recyclables must also be clear bagged.  We use containers with lids mainly to control pests (the garbage men never replace the lids by the way, which is awesome on windy days.)

Even though recycling is mandatory, and there are sometimes citations given to locations that have ‘improperly’ sorted or stored their recyclables, DSNY reported a 15% diversion rate for October 2011.   That’s pretty low.

Recycling has increasingly been making its way to the sustainability priority list. Last summer, the solid waste portion of Mayor Bloomberg’s PlaNYC 2030 update, focused on waste reduction.  At a solid waste forum last month, city officials and law makers discussed the $1 billion they spend on solid waste management, and options to reduce the $300m dedicated to transporting waste to landfills outside of the city.  In his state of the city address last week, Bloomberg announced a goal to divert 50% more materials from landfills in the next five years (I’ll save the incineration/waste-to-energy discussion for another post).

There’s a lot of room for improvement in recycling in NYC.  Even though it seems like my neighbors are doing a pretty good job (yeah, I take a look at their bags of recycling on Thursday mornings when I walk to the train) we can all be doing better.  While it would be great if all 8 million people in the city would take part in The Rubbish Diet, I’ll start us off.

I put out two bags of trash last Thursday, one big bag of mixed paper, and one small bag of glass/metal/plastic.  Today (Monday, a trash pick-up day) I do not need to put out any trash.  It can wait until Thursday.


About Amy Marpman

Director of Recycling Services at Great Forest, Inc. in NYC. Continually finding the balance of idealism with the practical realities that make or break recycling programs.
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2 Responses to Recycling in NYC

  1. It’s so interesting to read you have two garbage collections each week. Over here our collections for landfill waste is either weekly or fortnightly with councils moving to the latter and recycling collections also on alternate weeks.

  2. Pingback: Typical NYC trash | Beyond the Blue Bin

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