New York City Expands City Recycling Program

New York City has introduced legislation that it says will significantly expand the city’s recycling program.


New York City’s City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, together with Sanitation and Solid Waste Management Committee Chair Letitia James and Council Members Mathieu Eugene, Julissa Ferreras, James Gennaro, Jessica Lappin, and Melissa Mark Viverito, have introduced legislation that the group say would dramatically expand and improve recycling in New York City.

In making the announcement, Quinn notes that the legislation would be the first significant expansion of the city’s recycling program since the program was created more than 20 years ago.

“We’re incredibly excited to be introducing a package of bills that will dramatically expand and overhaul the way we recycle here in New York City. Our legislation will divert over 8,000 tons of plastic every year away from landfills and incinerators. That’s equal to the amount of trash produced by nearly 10,000 people each year,” says Quinn.

“As chair of the Sanitation Committee, I wholeheartedly support these improvements to Local Law 19, the city’s comprehensive residential recycling law,” says James. “Revisions to the law that especially appeal to me include the expanded public space recycling initiative that would more than double the 300 bins in place, and require DOS (Department of Sanitation) to site a total of 700 public space recycling bins. I also support improved recycling at city and non-DOE Schools. This plan involves each school designating a recycling coordinator to place and manage receptacles around schools, specifically in classrooms and at entrances and exits of lunchrooms. The residential recycling law adds logical upgrades to the City’s current recycling efforts.”

New York City’s Local Law 19 mandated the collection of recyclables from every residential building in the city. The law also would mandate collection from every commercial building.

Within ten years of its initial enactment, the City of New York increased its residential recycling rate from less than one percent to more than 20 percent.

The upgrade to the program includes the following:

Expanded plastic recycling. The new legislation would require DOS to begin recycling all rigid plastic containers. The city expects the addition of these plastics will divert more than 8,000 tons of plastic each year from landfills and incinerators. This component of the bill would take effect following the opening of a new recycling facility in Brooklyn, which is scheduled to open in 2012.

Expanded public space recycling. There are currently approximately 300 recycling bins at public spaces around the city. The new legislation would require DOS to site 300 new recycling bins over the next three years, and a total of 700 bins within the next ten years.

Household hazardous waste. The legislation would mandate at least one department-sponsored household hazardous waste collection event in each borough every year, with a long-term goal of increasing the number of events, or making such sites permanent.

Clothing and textile recycling. The legislation would require DOS to establish a citywide textile collection program by placing deposit bins on city-owned or city-managed property throughout the city.

Paint recycling pilot program. The Council’s legislation would establish a voluntary manufacturer and retailer take-back program for unwanted household paint, which makes up about 50 percent of household hazardous waste.

The updated legislation also aims to make changes to the existing program. These include the following:

Would require every school within the Department of Education to designate a recycling coordinator and provide recycling receptacles in each classroom and other locations. Similar requirements would also apply to non-DOE schools.

Would require each agency to designate a recycling coordinator and implement plans to increase recycling in all city-owned and city-run buildings.

Extend the DOS collection period from March 1 – November 30, and requires the city to establish a new leaf and yard waste composting facility in Queens or Brooklyn.

The new legislation would replace this single vague mandate, with a series of more specific requirements and a more sensible methodology for calculating diversion rates. To assess the success of recycling more effectively, the bill would establish two different sets of recycling goals, one to calculate the recyclable material that DOS actually collects from the curbside, and a second to calculate all materials recycled from residences in the City, including e-waste, plastic bags and bottles returned for refund. If any of these goals are not met, DOS must first consult with Council to improve its recycling program. If they remain unmet, it will result in the appointment of an outside expert, to issue recommendations on how the city can meet recycling goals.

The legislation also addresses the differences between residences and commercial buildings. The differences have caused homeowners to bear a disproportionate percentage of recycling fines. The new legislation would establish two tiers for fines – the first for residential buildings with 1-8 units, and the second for buildings with 9 or more units, as well as non-residential buildings.

Offers first-time offenders in 1-8 unit residences the option to attend recycling workshops (including online tutorials) in lieu of paying fines. The legislation also requires DOS to provide trainings for owners and employees of buildings with 9 or more units that receive three tickets in one year.

Requires DOS to create a guide to the residential recycling program, to be distributed and made available to the public.

The legislation also calls for several studies to be conducted. One study would explore recycling markets and opportunities to expand recycling facilities and recycling-related jobs in New York City.

A second report would target composting. It would require the DoS to study methods for expanding capacity to compost residential and commercial food waste. Upon completion, DOS must conduct a commercial food waste composting pilot.

A third report would require the Sanitation Commissioner to issue an annual report detailing the recycling totals for all materials recycled under city and state law.

Another study, required by the law, would have the DoS complete a commercial recycling study.

And finally, the law would require the DoS to conduct follow-up waste characterization studies in 2012 and 2018 and requires a comprehensive study by 2024.