Continuing the Trend. The city's share of waste that is recycled has steadily dropped over the course of Mr. Bloomberg's mayoralty, from 35.1% in 2002 to 16.6% in 2012, according to the 2012 preliminary Mayor's Management Report. San Francisco and Portland divert nearly 80% of their waste from landfills, and others such as Chicago and Oakland come in well over 40%.
A 2009 investigation by NYC Park Advocates discovered that the city's largest landholder the the supposedly "green empire" was not recycling. Approximalty 20 parks - most run by private groups and BIDs - out 1700 parks and playgrounds were recycling.
With nine months left in his term, Mayor Michael Bloomberg hopes to expand recycling in New York with a plan to station 1,000 new recycling receptacles across the city, including 30 big-bellied, solar-powered canisters in Times Square, according to the Wall Street Journal.
The effort comes as the city's share of waste that is recycled has steadily dropped over the course of Mr. Bloomberg's mayoralty, from 35.1% in 2002 to 16.6% in 2012, according to the 2012 preliminary Mayor's Management Report. San Francisco and Portland divert nearly 80% of their waste from landfills, and others such as Chicago and Oakland come in well over 40%.
The statistics are a disappointment to many who applaud the mayor's record on other environmental issues. "The mayor has had an overall strong record on sustainability issues, but recycling has been a soft spot in that program." said Eric Goldstein, a senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council. "The mayor has begun to turn around his waste policies in a significant way. A fresh breeze seems to be blowing."
City statistics show it recycled 644,000 tons of waste in 2012, down from 1.9 million tons in 2002. "We have acknowledged the city has to do better and can do better," said Lauren Passalacqua, a mayoral spokeswoman. "We know that we need to make recycling more widely available. We know we need to help people think through all the rules."
Among the recycling plan's elements: a new recycling plant in Brooklyn; a test in Staten Island allowing households to recycle food scraps and yard waste; and a public-education campaign.
Annie Cottrell, a 22-year-old nanny who recently moved to Brooklyn from Los Angeles and used to live in Phoenix, said New York recycling was "a puzzle every time."
"Everywhere I've lived I've recycled. It's not that hard," she said. Here, "there are a lot of guidelines, and if you don't do it exactly right, you get fined."
Experts and advocates trace the city's recycling challenges to a variety of factors.
The curb-side recycling rate dropped from about 19% in 2002 to 11% in 2003, when the city eliminated plastic and glass recycling to save money. The rate represents recycling done by households and schools, along with materials collected from sidewalk canisters—everything picked up by city trucks except for waste generated by city-government buildings.
"After Sept. 11, recycling was suspended for a year," Ms. Passalacqua said. "We had to change the guidelines. Also, we didn't have the infrastructure to handle the waste, so we created it."
All curb-side recycling was reinstated by 2004, but the rate has never bounced back.
"The recycling program took a horrendous hit during that two-year period," said Maggie Clarke, a professor at City University of New York and an environmental consultant. "When you're whipsawing people around, it makes it that much harder to educate people. It's hard enough anyway."
New York's current fleet of 500 recycling canisters is far smaller than less-populated cities like San Francisco. The city also hasn't adopted policies that have worked elsewhere. In San Francisco, a city of about 812,000, construction sites must recycle at least 65% of materials. No such requirement exists in New York, though the city says some builders do have their materials recycled (a figure not reflected in New York's overall diversion rate).
San Francisco residents get three bins from the city—blue for recycling, green for organics and black for landfill waste. New York has no such system.
Portland, which has a population of about 594,000, had a diversion rate of about 20% two decades ago, said Michael Armstrong, the city's sustainability manager. It is now 70%. Much of the increase came as the city added a food-scrap program and began to pick up garbage every other week—but recyclables weekly, he said.
New York wants to increase the curb-side recycling rate to 30%. To lead the push, the city hired Ron Gonen, founder of RecycleBank, a New York company that helps communities, waste haulers and local and national brands increase their recycling and profit off such efforts.
New York could save $60 million a year by diverting 30% of its waste from landfills, Mr. Gonen said. The city spent $300 million in 2012 to ship waste out-of-state. For every ton of paper the city recycles, Mr. Gonen said the city receives at least $10.For every ton of glass and metal the city recycles, it pays about $72. It costs, on average, $86 to place a ton at an out-of-state landfill, he said. "If you don't care that much about the environment, hopefully you care about your pocketbook and tax dollars," Mr. Gonen said.
To process much of the material it expects to collect, the city and SIMS, a private firm, worked together to create a new, 100,000-square-foot recycling plant in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. SIMS invested $44 million to build the plant, and the city spent $80 million to upgrade roads and utilities to make the development possible.
The plant will be able to handle 24,000 to 48,000 tons of recyclable material a year, said a spokeswoman for the mayor's office. SIMS and the city will share the revenue.
The coming commercials and fliers should raise recycling to a visibility level unseen during the Bloomberg administration.
"It would have been better if it happened sooner," said Steven Cohen, director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, "but better late than never."
The Wall Street Journal - March 20, 2013 - By Josh Dawsey
A Walk In The Park - April 3, 2012