JUNE 2010

New York City law significantly expands city’s residential recycling program

New York City speaker Christine C. Quinn, together with sanitation and solid waste management committee chair Letitia James announced legislation that would dramatically expand and improve recycling in New York City.

The package of legislation would mark the first significant expansion of the city’s residential recycling program since it was created in 1989.

In 1989, the City of New York enacted its first comprehensive residential recycling law, commonly known as Local Law 19. The law was one of the first of its kind in the United States, and its sheer scale – collecting recyclables from every residential building in the City of New York, and mandating collection from every commercial building – made it among the most ambitious recycling programs in the world. Within ten years of its enactment, the City of New York increased its residential recycling rate from less than one percent to more than 20 percent.

The new recycling legislation includes the following:

•Expanded plastic recycling – Currently, the city only recycles plastics made of types 1 and 2. The new legislation would require the Department of Sanitation (DOS) to begin recycling all rigid plastic containers, including items such as yogurt tubs, take out containers, flower pots and medicine bottles. It takes 88 percent less energy to produce plastics from recycled materials than it does to produce new plastics, and this expansion would divert over 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 located in Brooklyn, which is scheduled to open in 2012.

•Expanded public space recycling – There are 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 3 years, and a total of 700 bins within the next 10 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 new 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 – 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.

Changes and improvements to existing programs:

•Improved recycling at city schools. Would require every school within the Department of Education (DOE) to designate a recycling coordinator and to provide recycling receptacles in each classroom and other locations such as entrances and lunch rooms. Similar requirements would also apply to non-DOE schools.

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

•Improvements in leaf and yard waste composting. Extends 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.

•Replaces obsolete tonnage mandates. The original Local Law 19 set mandates requiring DOS to recycle a fixed number of tons of waste per year. These mandates were set at a time when the City produced substantially more waste than it does today and continuing reductions in the city’s waste stream have prevented the City from ever meeting the targets.

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.