NYC implements comprehensive programs to reduce solid waste

A guest post from New York City’s Office of Long Term Planning and Sustainability.

Every year, New York City homes, businesses, schools, streets, and construction sites generate more than 14 million tons of waste and recyclables. It takes a fleet of more than 2,000 City government and 4,000 private trucks to collect that waste from across the five boroughs. Once these trucks are full they are then emptied at recycling facilities or transfer stations, where the material is transferred to long-haul trucks, barges, or railcars for processing or final disposal. Not only is the process expensive, costing City taxpayers more than US$300 million for residential waste disposal alone, the solid waste system contributes substantially to both greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and poor air quality.

Bloomberg For Waste Management Program

All together, the collection, processing, disposal and decomposition of New York City’s solid waste generates approximately 2.2 million metric tons C02e each year, or 4 percent of the citywide total. In an effort to reduce that number, Mayor Michael Bloomberg established an aggressive goal of diverting 75 percent of the city’s solid waste from landfills.

As the city continues to grow, and we meet the challenges posed by climate change, we must reduce the amount of waste we generate and its related impacts. We are doing that by implementing a sequence of voluntary, comprehensive and targeted programs that directly focus on solid waste issues with the highest potential for positive returns. The “Food Waste Challenge”, the Organics Pilot for Schools and Residences – an expanded recycling program that includes all rigid plastics – as well as the launch of the “Recycle Everything” ad campaign, are new initiatives the City is undertaking to build out a more robust, comprehensive solid waste management program. The “Food Waste Challenge”, an initiative that aims to cut down on the amount of organic waste sent to landfills, kicked off in April 2013 with more than 100 participating NYC restaurants. Some of the city’s most popular eateries have pledged to reduce landfilled food waste by 50 percent through composting and other waste prevention methods. To date, FWC participants have diverted 1,000 tons of food waste to landfills, abating 500 tons of CO2e into the atmosphere.

In September 2012, the New York City Department of Sanitation (DSNY) launched the pilot program Organics Pilot for Schools in 68 schools to separate organic waste for composting. To date, the program has led to a diversion rate of 34 percent from Manhattan schools and 38 percent from Brooklyn schools participating in the pilot. The weekly collection of more than 20 tons of organic waste from the program will soon be processed into sludge at a Waste Management-operated facility on Varick Street, and codigested with city wastewater at Newtown Creek wastewater treatment plant (WWTP).

Building off of the success of the Organics Pilot to Schools, the Organics Pilot for Residences, a voluntary pilot program that allows residents to take advantage of a new organics collection service, launched in May 2013. Through the program DSNY collects yard waste, food scraps, and food-soiled paper every week from pilot area homes. DSNY then turns these organic wastes into compost, a natural soil amendment. Finished compost is made available to city agencies and non-profit organizations for use in gardening, soil restoration and erosion mitigation, and habitat improvements.

Sustainable solid waste management not only has environmental benefits, but economic benefits as well. The expansion of the City’s recycling program will include, for the first time, all rigid plastics, including toys, hangers, shampoo bottles, coffee cups and food containers. The recycling expansion will result in more than 50,000 additional tons of waste a year no longer ending up in landfills, saving taxpayers almost US$600,000 in export costs each year.

In coordination with the expansion of all rigid plastics, Mayor Bloomberg launched the “Recycle Everything” ads, which are part of a public information campaign that kicked off in July of this year to promote recycling. These ads have been featured throughout the city on buses, subways, transit shelters, taxi tops, phone kiosks and even the Staten Island Ferry.

Ultimately, the pursuit of sustainable solid waste management in New York City is a long-term and complicated effort. Yet, with the implementation of these creative, forward-thinking programs and policies, the City is moving in the right direction. Long term success will require continued commitment as well as creative thinking and better coordination between different levels of government. We know the critical milestones of sustainable solid waste management; our task now is to act aggressively in pursuit of these goals.

To read more about the solid waste management plans and programs of New York City’s Office of Long Term Planning and Sustainability, click here.