A Clear Solution

New York uses shame to enforce recycling regulations.

New york city has turned to a new motivating tool to shape up buildings with repeated recycling violations — shame. In December, six Brooklyn buildings that had received numerous summonses for recycling-related infractions were required to put all of their trash in clear plastic bags and endure routine inspections.

Robert Lange, director of the Bureau of Waste Prevention, Reuse and Recycling for the city's Department of Sanitation, says the program has been a provision in the city's recycling laws for a long time and targets the city's most egregious violators. After a citywide waste characterization study was conducted in the fall of 2004, the city identified several buildings that habitually ignored recycling requirements. In August 2007, five buildings in Manhattan became the first added to the program. Lange says that all five reached full compliance within four months.

“Based on people's relationship with their trash, they don't want anyone looking at what they're setting out,” Lange says. “It's not necessarily something they want to share with the passing public.” Lange adds that the program is very labor intensive and thus will be expanded on a borough-by-borough basis. Inspections for each building in the program can be conducted as often as three days each week and result in fines of $100 per bag.

Recently, New York's recycling rates have lagged behind those of other major cities. In July 2006, Mayor Michael Bloomberg passed the Comprehensive Solid Waste Management Plan, which aimed for a 25 percent recycling rate by the end of 2007, and 70 percent by 2015. “Sufficient time has passed that everyone should be on board by now,” Lange says.