NYC To Beat High Cost of Recycling

Environmental legislators and lobbyists could get their just desserts if New York City resumes recycling plastic this summer. But that doesn't mean the New York Department of Sanitation (NYDS) will have to swallow as large a financial loss as it anticipated.

In July 2002, New York dropped curbside glass and plastic recycling to cut approximately $40 million from the budget. However, a private recycling firm now has agreed to pay for the city's plastic and metal, which would mean New York could collect those commodities again.

Of the seven organizations vying for New York's plastic and metal, Hugo Neu Schnitzer East, Jersey City, N.J., appears to be offering the strongest bid because it is offering to pay the city for the recyclables, rather than the other way around, says John Pampalone, NYDS spokesman.

Hugo's proposal still requires the city to pay about $125 per ton to pickup residential metal and plastic, but New York stands to earn more than half a million dollars in place of paying the $70 per ton disposal fee. The city picks up approximately 100,000 tons of plastic and metal per year.

The price NYDS would receive for each ton of plastic and metal has been reported at $5.10 and $5.15 per ton. Hugo Neu Schnitzer already takes the city's metal for $30 per ton, and the company decided it could add plastic to the load if it lowered the price it paid to a figure between $5 and $6 per ton. A bid from Waste Management Inc., Houston, is running the closest second to Hugo's offer and would require the city to pay $67 per ton of metal and plastic. Bids currently are going through a review process that investigates company history and any criminal background.

“We're still weeks if not months away from awarding a contract, but this is the lowest bid we've received so far,” Pampalone says. “It is a little premature to say what will happen.”

In November 2002, the NYDS began shopping for offers for a combination metals and plastics contract that would help the city resurrect its recycling programs.

Since last July, many recycling companies and environmental groups have decried the budget cuts that eliminated curbside recycling and composting from residential services. Some maintain eliminating the programs has not saved the city the kind of money it projected.

The deal with Hugo may not be done, but Sanitation Commissioner John Doherty is optimistic: “It's the first time we've really seen daylight for recycling,” he said at a City Council hearing held Jan. 13. Some news sources are reporting plastic recycling could resume by July.

Officials may be facing some pressure to accept the Hugo offer, but others warn that it will not provide the same kind of relationships and contracts available through a large waste company.

Hugo Neu Corp. is a family-owned company that has been in the scrap metal business for more than 50 years and has processed most of the steel from the World Trade Centers.

A company spokesman told the New York Times that an “emotional and economic bond” was forged during that process that wasn't there before. The company began handling the city's metal last summer.

When New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg placed a moratorium on glass and plastic recycling last year, residents still were required to put out metal and paper separately, but not plastic, glass, or milk and juice cartons.

When curbside recycling resumes, the public will have to become reacquainted with sorting practices.