An Environment Management Capacity Building Technical Assistance Project Sponsored by MoEF Government of India  

Recycling Returns; NYC Out of Habit

Recycling Back, but Participation Took Hit From Two-Year Hiatus

By Julie Carson
Columbia Daily Spectator
April 07, 2004

As of April 1, New York City has reinstated the full recycling program that was scrapped two years ago. Banished in an effort to save the city budget, recycling is now making its return for the same reason.

In order to close a $4.9 billion budget gap, Mayor Michael Bloomberg suspended glass and plastic recycling in July 2002. Bloomberg predicted that the cutback would save the city over $40 million a year, and justified the move to critics with the claim that 40 percent of materials collected for recycling were ending up in landfills and that the costs of recycling were "skyrocketing."

For various reasons, these savings failed to pan out. Since then, recycling became potentially more cost effective than waste disposal.

The market for recycled material fluctuates, and in a lull there is no money to be made through recyclables. When the city cut back its recycling program it was paying more than $100 per ton for vendors to take the recyclable material, compared with $67-$69 per ton fee it paid for solid waste disposal.

Since the suspension two years ago, however, the tables have turned. Hugo Neu Schnitzer East, a family-owned scrap-metal company, offered the city its first positive bid for metal and plastic, paying the city $5.10 per ton, and lowering the fee for glass recycling to $51 a ton. According to John Doherty, commissioner of the New York Department of Sanitation, the next best bid for glass was a $125 fee per ton.

Many environmentalists feared that suspending the program would sacrifice the years of time and millions of dollars spent to encourage recycling.

These fears proved legitimate, and the resulting decrease in participation will continue to cost the city money in re-education and collection costs.

Since the recycling program was created in 1989, the city had reported a steady increase in recycling. By 2002, when recycling was suspended in the city, 20 percent of New Yorkers were recycling. But when general recycling was halted, even though profitable paper recycling was never suspended, the city collected 13 percent less paper when collection of other materials was disrupted.

Since the city makes money on paper recycling, this change cut the city's revenue. In addition, the potentially lucrative paper is costing the city money by increasing the volume and therefore the cost of garbage disposal. This is one of the factors that caused the city to save less than $11 million by abandoning its recyclables to the trash heap.