New York seeks to double recycling by 2017

2014-01-23 14:30

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New York - More than 40 000 tonnes of waste a day, 7 000 employees and a fleet of more than 2 500 trucks: New York faces an uphill task in trashing its garbage and doubling recycling by 2017.

New York generates the most garbage: a dizzying 2.5kg per person per day compared to 2kg in the rest of the country, according to the office of Mayor Bill de Blasio.

"Sanitation is the most important uniformed force on the street", writes Robin Nagle, anthropologist at New York University in her book Picking Up.

"If sanitation workers aren't there, the city becomes unliveable, fast".

But New York, in so many other respects a municipal policy trailblazer for the United States, lags woefully behind its West Coast and European rivals on the issue of recycling.

Ron Gonen, New York recycling champ, says the amount of waste rises each year and that the city spends $330m on trucking off its refuse to places like Ohio or North Carolina.

But in the last two years the city of 8.4 million, where businesses organise their own separate waste collection, has made serious if belated efforts to improve recycling.

Of the 11 200 tonnes of daily rubbish collected by the city, it is committed to increasing the rate of recycling from 15 to 30% by 2017, organic waste not included.

Catching up quickly

Private companies discard another 29 000 tonnes a day.

The city has partnered with private investors to build a brand-new, state-of-the-art recycling plant in Brooklyn.

The city has extended a pilot programme to collect organic waste from 300 schools this year, up from 90 in the last.

From July 2015 restaurants, delis and grocers will also have to separate out organic waste for recycling.

"In the last two years there was phenomenal dedication. There is a lot of potential", Gonen told AFP.

Eric Goldstein, an expert from the natural resources defence council also working with the city, agrees.

"We are in an early stage of transformation", he told AFP.

"We had a slow start, we are still not one of the leading cities, as Seattle or San Francisco. But we are catching up quickly by good steps forward."

He blamed the delay on being too focused on the short-term and shying away from long-term investments.

"The biggest challenge is that the progress of the Bloomberg administration continues with the new mayor", Goldstein told AFP.


In December, an ultra-modern recycling plant for metals, glass and plastics opened in Brooklyn, operated by Sims Municipal Recycling, a world leader in the sector.

It took 10 years and $110m from private and state investors to build the 44 515 square metre Sunset Park Material Recovery Facility along the East River.

"This is the largest sorting system of this type, to my knowledge, in the world, certainly in the United States", said Tom Outerbridge, general manager of the Sims plant.

The machinery is mostly Dutch and German. There is an educational centre for students but at the moment it functions only eight hours a day with the plan to go 24-seven by spring.

Of the approximately 800 tonnes of plastic, glass and metal that the city collects each day, the plant currently treats about 272 tonnes.

The rest goes to another plant in neighbouring New Jersey. The two plants combined can recycle 1 180 tonnes a day according to Outerbridge, who has 25 years experience in the sector.

Recycling is not just good for the environment. It also generates revenue: an aluminium cube produced by Sunset Park weighing around 680kg can be resold for $1 000.

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