Back on Track

NEW YORK WILL BE on the road to recovery by April 1. After a two-year moratorium on recycling, the city is resuming weekly collection of glass, metals and plastics.

Two years ago, the effects of Sept. 11 and the recession took a bite out of the Big Apple's budget, as it did in many cities nationwide. Thus, facing financial constraints, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg's office was forced to slash services. In July 2002, glass and plastic recycling ceased, and collections were reduced from weekly to every other week.

“Two years ago, the city faced the most severe fiscal crisis in a generation,” Bloomberg says. “We made the difficult decision to suspend a portion of our recycling program because costs were skyrocketing.”

Yet the decision created a backlash, with environmentalists heralding the need for recycling and residents lamenting collection confusion. Moreover, local law 19 has made recycling mandatory since 1989, so the city was obligated to get recycling on track.

However, the fact that New York was paying approximately $105 per ton for vendors to collect recyclables was problematic. So vendors reconfigured their operations to offer a “considerably better deal,” the Department of Sanitation (DSNY) says.

By July 2003, Hugo Neu Schnitzer East (HNSE), Jersey City, N.J., proposed a plastic contract the city could not refuse, so plastics recycling resumed. And now, New York's budget has improved so the city can resume glass pickups and weekly collections, DSNY Commissioner John J. Doherty says.

Starting this month, recycling vendors will accept materials for $51 per ton, almost half what New York had been paying. “We are bringing back glass recycling and weekly collections … because we've found a more cost-effective and environmentally friendly way to recycle,” Bloomberg says.

And thanks to the increased recycling collection, the DSNY will be hiring employees. Most of the 500 workers who were laid off during the recycling cuts have been rehired, and the department plans to add 410 people to its staff to handle the workflow.

To alleviate confusion among residents who have faced several recycling and collection disruptions, the city plans to implement a $4 million mail campaign to re-educate citizens. “We anticipate that New Yorkers will continue to embrace the recycling program,” says DSNY Spokeswoman Kathy Dawkins.

In the meantime, the DSNY has bigger issues on the horizon, namely deciding where to dispose city trash. The mayor's preliminary budget for 2005 by the New York City Independent Budget Office indicates that the largest long-term solid waste management plan involves containerizing trash at marine transfer stations for long-distance transport. Accomplishing this, however, will cost the DSNY approximately 47.5 percent of its 2004-2007 budget, with $493 million planned for use in 2005.