Gallery: New York City Lags Far Behind in Recycling Rates

New York City may be at the top of its game when it comes to energy efficiency and working toward a greener future, but there is one crucial area where the Big Apple seriously lags behind: recycling. Legislation was passed last year to overhaul the city’s recycling laws passed way back in 1989, but exactly how far behind are we? Only half of the 14 million tons of waste we generate every year is recycled, and earlier this year, the NRDC found that while more than two dozen large and medium sized U.S. cities recycle all types of plastic containers, New York only recycles bottles and jugs. In a different study, this time by Siemens AG, found that New York ranked 16th out of 27 cities in efficiently handling its waste. One of the biggest culprits is take-out containers and disposable utensils, ubiquitous among the working lunch crowd.

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  1. debbylee23 November 4, 2011 at 4:42 pm

    You did not mention that NYC’s public school garbage is included within these shockingly low residential recycling rates.

    NYC’s public school community consists of 1.1 million students, 75,000 teachers, and thousands of additional staff, providing an excellent opportunity for implementing serious solid waste reduction procedure and education. Teaching new habits at school is valuable knowledge that can be taken home.

    Over the past 20 years, our schools have thrown away 3 BILLION STYROFOAM (polystyrene) LUNCH TRAYS. Polystyrene trays are used because they are cheap. Nothing is truly thrown “away” and when accounting for the entire life cycle of polystyrene, these trays are anything but cheap! Our children eat hot food directly off of these trays, which are composed of the chemicals benzene and styrene. After a mere 20 minutes of use, used trays are exported to landfills out of state, a city sanitation expenditure that continues to rise.

    While I applaud PlaNYC and the Department of Education on all their great energy saving initiatives, it is high time for this city to seriously invest in school waste reduction initiatives and to procure all city contracted products with consideration to product Life Cycle Analysis. We should be “designing” our school garbage and investing in closed loop systems which generate our city income, rather than costing us dearly.

    By 2030, Mayor Bloomberg’s target year for 30% carbon emissions reduction, our school children will be adults, many with children of their own. Their lifelong habits regarding recycling and waste are being formed by what we teach them right now!

    Debby Lee Cohen
    Director, Styrofoam Out of Schools (SOSnyc.org)/Cafeteria Culture