Garbage Can Be Gold The Benefits of Recycling

It’s hard to believe that recycling was a pretty novel concept not too long ago, especially for municipalities. In the 1970s and ‘80s, local governments started to establish recycling programs due to rising energy prices and a growing concern for the environment. Little by little, in the last 40 years, more and more Americans have made recycling a regular part of their daily lives. When you take out the trash, you also sort the recycling—they’re part of the same routine.

Don’t Get Trashed

In the last few years, the recycling industry has seen new technologies and political energy that are creating some of the largest shifts in how people and cities handle their trash in recent memory. Simply recycling glass bottles and newspapers isn’t the goal anymore. Garbage hauling has become a greater and greater expense for towns and cities. Citizens are more defensive of their surrounding areas, and don’t want landfills sited in their respective communities.

In New York, there simply is no new land to be developed as landfill. For years, Staten Island's Fresh Kills landfill provided the final home for much of New York City's trash—it is now closed, and has been re-purposed as a public park. The city now pays a high price to have garbage hauled away in trucks to Midwestern states like Ohio, where space for landfills is still available. The Bloomberg administration has made some efforts to decrease those hauling costs, and follow the lead of other recycling-heavy cities like San Francisco and Toronto, which have implemented a slew of programs that have found ways to cut down how much refuse gets thrown into landfills.

There are essentially two aspects of recycling that are needed: compliance from residents and businesses, and the infrastructure that collects and sorts the materials. Thanks to new technologies, cities are adopting several new systems for dealing with recyclables. Traditionally, paper and plastics have been kept separately for collection, since they are ultimately broken down and re-purposed separately. But, that is changing.

“'Single-stream' systems allow all designated recyclables—papers and containers—to be collected together. It has the benefits of making it easier for residents to participate, which is now well-documented, and cheaper to collect,” says Kendall Christensen, a senior consultant to InSinkErator, a garbage disposal manufacturer, and former assistant director to New York City's recycling program.


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  • Morningside Gardens Coop, a 960 unit coop located between Broadway and Amsterdam Avenues at LaSalle Street in West Harlem, became the largest multi-family residential unit in NYC to join the DSNY composting program on June 23, 2013. The voluntary program has been highly successful with as many as half of all units participating. Individual families in the coop's 6 buildings collect their food scraps in their kitchens, put them in a compost container provided by GrowNYC, and take the contents to a common collection site where the DSNY picks up 5 days a week. Contamination rates are near 0%.