The Recycling Cycle
New Methods, New Incentives
By Danielle Braff
New York City is trashy. Literally. Every day, the people living in the Big Apple produce hundreds of tons of trash—12,000 tons, according to GrowNYC, a nonprofit organization that strives to improve New York via environmental programs. That is enough trash each day to fill up the Empire State Building. The diesel trucks that carry Manhattan’s garbage rack up almost 8 million miles every year, which is the equivalent of driving more than 312 times around the earth.
Once all that garbage is carted away from their driveways, curbs and stoops, however, most people don’t give it much further thought. It has to go somewhere, though, and most often, it goes to landfills, transfer stations, and treatment plants throughout New York State, or onto trains and barges and sent even farther afield.
In New York City, where land is so pricey and space is so tight, it’s not surprising that the trash is taken far away from the inner city—but that does not mean that New Yorkers shouldn’t care about the afterlife of their trash. Because while most everyone is happy to get their garbage off their hands, they tend to be less enthused about having those aforementioned landfills, transfer stations, or treatment facilities sited anywhere near their homes or communities.
It is incredibly important to know where your building’s garbage and recycling is going, and to educate yourself about new waste and recycling practices. After all, a landfill or processing center could be proposed to open near your neck of the woods—and landfills are one of the most potent contributors to global warming, responsible for 36 percent of all methane emissions in the United States. Or, perhaps a recycling hub could start in your own building’s basement. Or maybe you’ve got an electronic recycling box in your basement already (most big buildings already do). You should know about it.
There are 59 different waste management districts in New York City, says Belinda Mager, assistant director with the New York City Department of Sanitation’s (DSNY)’s Bureau of Public Information and Community Affairs. Each district and bureau throughout New York City has a different location for trash drop-offs.
“It goes all over the place,” Mager explains. The collection processing facilities are all over the map, and once the trash gets picked up and goes to the transfer station, it belongs to one of about a dozen or so vendors. (The only vendor that the city runs on its own is in Staten Island.) From there, the trash gets sent to landfills—but there are no active landfills in New York City, Mager says.
As expected, recycling is big in the Big Apple. Most of the city’s waste goes across the Hudson River to New Jersey, while the paper waste is recycled locally or gets recycled further overseas. Glass, plastics and metals collected curbside are sent to New Jersey, where they are processed and sent to many different recycling markets, according to GrowNYC. The processing centers are run by individual waste management teams, and they take over the process once the trash arrives at the center.
Recycling is important in New York, not only for its environmental benefits but also for the amount of money it brings to the city. Paper recycling nets New York $7.5 million after the cost of collection—even though almost half of the paper is still thrown in the garbage, according to GrowNYC. Recycling also cuts down on garbage collection, which is getting more expensive, too. The cost of exporting garbage was expected to rise $5.7 million in 2008 (the latest statistics available by GrowNYC), which didn’t include the cost of collection.
Despite the many benefits of recycling, only about 17 percent of the city’s total waste—or half of what they could be recycling if everyone was doing it properly—is recycled, according to GrowNYC. A whopping 7.5 percent of the waste stream is plastic film such as supermarket bags, while clothing…