Recycling is good for the environment - everyone knows that. But it can be a pain keeping track of the changes - one year it doesn't include glass or plastics, the next, glass and plastics are back; one year, you recycle newspapers, the next, you recycle "mixed papers" as well. And if this is confusing to the ordinary New York cooperator or condo owner, who has to take piles of newspapers and magazines down to the basement, it's doubly challenging for board members and building managers.
The city passed its first recycling law - Local Law 19 - in 1989. At the time, the city was faced with dwindling free landfill space of its own and increasing reluctance on the part of many out-of-town communities to accept the city's garbage in their landfills. Tough air pollution requirements had been enacted that discouraged incineration - many folks who grew up in apartment houses before that will remember throwing trash "down the incinerator." But in order to save space and engender compliance, recycling collection was phased in neighborhood by neighborhood, with the city sponsoring outreach programs to churches, schools, senior centers, neighborhood associations, and building associations.
Some neighborhoods such as Park Slope and Greenwich Village had their own voluntary recycling programs well established as early as the 1970s. But if you think that recycling was invented in the "˜70s by some neo-hippies on Thompson Street or Prospect Park West, you're very much mistaken.
"There's always been recycling, even if it wasn't always called by that name," says Nancy Walby, vice chair of Brooklyn's Solid Waste Advisory Board (SWAB), one of several groups that advises the Brooklyn borough president. "As a kid, I lived in 13 cities, and you always had to separate some things, whether it was wet papers from dry, or tin pots and pans. When I moved to New York 30 years ago, it was the first place I lived that allowed you to throw everything out," she recalls. New York City, by the way, long before Local Law 19, did have such a program to separate out trash - before World War I, that is.
The current recycling program - which is administered by the Department of Sanitation - has changed somewhat over the years. The types of materials that are being recycled and the frequency of recycling has generally increased, though in July of 2002, in the aftermath of 9/11, the city temporarily suspended glass and plastic recycling collections because of a severe budget crunch. Collections of plastic resumed in July 2003, and glass recycling, as well as well as weekly pickups, resumed in April 2004.