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A Data Breakdown of NYC’s Curbside Recyclables

In New York City, there are three solid waste streams: refuse, paper recycling and metal/glass/plastic recycling. And while the city works hard to ramp up its recycling efforts, the city's recycling programs only capture approximately 44 percent of the city's recyclable material, according to the analysis of the New York City Department of Sanitation 2013 Residential Waste Characterization Study completed by the New York City Independent Budget Office.

The low percentage of captured materials is mostly caused by recyclables simply being placed in the wrong bins or contaminated items making their way into the city's recycling streams.

Here's a quick data breakdown of the capture rates of aluminum cans, plastic dishware, green container glass and cardboard boxes:

  • Approximately 28 percent of aluminum cans that are collected by the NYC Department of Sanitation are captured in the metal/glass/plastic solid waste stream. This low number is partially due to scavengers who sort through the city's trash and recycling bins for valuable recyclables. 

  • Plastic dishware, which is comprised of single use plastic cups, plates and cutlery and part of the rigid plastics family, has the lowest capture rate of all materials. Only five percent of plastic dishware is collected from the metal/glass/plastic solid waste stream. 

  • While plastic dishware may be at the bottom of the rankings, green container glass has the highest capture rate of all materials. The awareness that glass is able to be recycled has helped the captured recycling rate of green container glass in the metal/glass/plastic solid waste stream to climb to 75 percent. 

  • Cardboard boxes and related paper products also have a high capture rate, which can also be attributed to the awareness of paper recycling and the ease of recycling large foldable items like boxes. With a capture rate of 71 percent, paper is currently the only commodity that exceeds the cost of processing. 


Images courtesy of New York City Department of Sanitation 

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