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Recycling – New York style

You would probably imagine that New York City with its dense 8.2 million population and towering apartment blocks would struggle to cope with recycling. So how does it compare to London and its 7.6 million residents?

Sharon Fisher, a Recycling Coordinator, says the state is averaging around 32%. In London, figures published last year showed our capital city had a recycling rate of 17.7% – almost half of New York – and way behind the national average of 22.9% for 2004/05.

Sharon works in the town of Bethlehem, in Albany County, with a population of 31,304. They have an astonishing recycling rate of 52%. This is what they do.

They collect glass, plastic bottles, tin cans, milk and juice cartons commingled – all together. They have a separate collection for newspapers, magazines, school and office paper and cardboard. They also collect books, batteries and electronic items, hazardous waste, yard waste and various other smaller items. These are collected once a week. As far as I know, all our recyclables in the UK are collected once a fortnight.

Their residual waste collection is also made once a week. Obviously we need to ask why they can do this in New York successfully, but we can’t manage it here, no wonder there is so much public opposition to fortnightly waste collections because common sense tells us that it can be done. I forgot to ask how residents pay for these collections, I will ask Sharon and update you on this. They obviously do not have a punitive system, else it would not be so successful.

New York is also being innovative and trialling the use of recycling bins in public places. And its Mayor Mike Bloomberg made certain that residents heard the right messages, unlike the dumbing down of our national recycling promotion currently being held which fails to emphasise the key points he is making. This is what he said:

“This program has great potential – but its success completely depends on the people walking through these areas. Garbage that’s placed in the wrong receptacle can spoil an entire batch of recyclables – which would make this effort a waste of time and money. So please take care to use garbage cans for garbage, and recycling bins for recyclables.

“Our long-term goal is, by the year 2015, to be recycling 70% of all the residential and commercial waste that can be recycled. This is a very ambitious goal – and much, much more than any other big city in our nation is achieving – but we are going to give it our best shot. Every day there are opportunities for all of us to step up our recycling. And if we all just do a little bit more, it can make a big difference.”

New York’s success is particularly amazing because in 2002, it stopped recycling plastic and glass because of a severe budget crisis, and didn’t resume the glass collections until 2004. I hope Minister Miliband takes this all in during his visit to America this week.

Sharon believes that education by far is the most valuable way to get the message across and said their Donating Reusable brochure introduced in 1996 has been extremely helpful and is appreciated by residents.

“Our residents are very conscious of the environment and prefer to recycle rather than have solid waste facilities such as landfills and incinerators in their neighborhood. They are always calling and asking how to recycle that one more item they may have.”

As the Americans would say, that’s awesome!!!


7 Comments

  1. That IS awesome.

    Totally unrelated story: When I was a very little girl living in Manhattan, I have memories of trash piled on the streets and on the banks of the East River when the mobbed-up and corrupt trash collector’s unions would go on strike. The city used to smell for weeks. Glad that stopped.

    I never had trouble recycling when I lived in an apartment. The bin doesn’t take up that much space. And it’s so easy to do.

    Trash here is collected every week. I take it that isn’t the case where you are.

  2. Now we know what those crafty New Yorkers put in those chilli dogs!!

  3. I think our politicians should stay with families in their apartments and see for themselves how their weekly recycling and waste collection works.

  4. Hi Heather, not so bizarre
    if you only have 50 or 60 square metres of living space, doesn’t leave much room for rubbish bins, recycle bins or wheelie bins.
    You can;t even keep it under the bed, if you have a studio flat with foldaway bed in a frontroom (or lounge) -cum- bedroom.

    Of course, easy to shove people into shoe boxes
    and then fail to understand that if you have no garden (front or rear) and no shed – where do you keep all these well intended recycling boxes? and where do you keep your stinking rubbish for two weeks between collections?

  5. My brother lives in north London and apparently isn’t expected to recycle because he lives in a flat, not a house. Very bizarre.

  6. I think that 32% is amazing. I checked with my local council(Cardiff Council) and it seems that this years target is for 25%, though I searched their website I couldn’t find what they actually achieved last year.
    I recycle everything that I can but there comes a point when you are left with non-recycleable packaging. I try always to buy produce with little or no packaging and have been involved in a number of projects to reduce packaging. However, there does come a point when only government legislation and intervention will force the producer to reconsider the way they package their products.
    What we do as individuals at times may seem like a drop in the ocean, NO IMPACT MAN was asked recently why he bothered when as individuals we make so little difference.
    Whilst governments can make the big changes it is still the individuals responsibility to help make the government changes happen,whose world is it anyway?

  7. Alas the curse of higher house prices and higher council services costs.
    Seems everyone wants to live in a higher price home, but not in a higher Council Tax Band.

    Seems everyobe wants more and better Council Services but not higher Council Taxes.

    Fine for those Councils who are seeing the level of new homes (and Council Tax payers) increase, and those Councils which have sold Council Homes for ‘peanuts’ to keep the Council Tax Rises to a minimum for a few years.

    But once you’ve sold the Council Homes and the family service, there’s nothing left to sell.
    So the next thing is reductions in Council Services.
    We;come to The Real World of Catch 22!
    Of course they could demand more grants from (central) government to promote recycling.

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