The amount of waste New York City's businesses and residents produce - more than 14 million tons each year - seems like a daunting task.
Although, it’s not too much for Nick Van Eyck to handle. Van Eyck, Deputy Director of Commercial Facilities Engagement and Operations for the New York City Department of Sanitation, is one of Waste 360’s 40 Under 40 award winners for 2023, recognized for his work on recycling in The Big Apple.
Van Eyck has built a full engagement team from scratch and can educate businesses through many formats, such as educational visits, training, mailers, print materials and more. Plus, the programs are available in multiple languages, bringing recycling education to as many businesses as possible.
Before his role with NYC’s Department of Sanitation, Van Eyck had always been interested in environmental justice and concerns over environmental issues and climate change. Once he moved to New York City in 2010, Van Eyck was intrigued by the scope and logistics of how the city operates regarding waste management.
“The sheer volume of waste generated that comes out of this city and [that] it has to go somewhere, it’s mind-blowing,” said Van Eyck. “A lot of the work we’ve done over the years implementing new recycling and organics rules has been leading up to this moment with the implementation of a new commercial waste zones system.”
Back on the sheer scale of New York City, Van Eyck never blinked when it came to taking on such a massive undertaking of educating businesses that make up the country’s largest city. Van Eyck has always felt a tremendous honor to work with amazing people, leading to a satisfying and rewarding career. While we may look at the challenge as Herculean, for Van Eyck, it’s just another day.
“I haven’t looked at it as a challenge, it just makes sense as something we should do to make the world a better place,” said Van Eyck. “It’s really exciting to be part of the fabric of the city of New York and instrumental in trying to move the needle when it comes to improving sustainability and waste management. Through commercial waste zones, we’re going to be making additional improvements that will affect the quality of New Yorker’s lives.”
As always, talking to someone who has their finger on the pulse of recycling in their area, I asked Van Eyck if education is the biggest issue for businesses in New York City regarding recycling. Typically, education is the number one answer given to me, and while it’s a large factor, Van Eyck feels it’s more than that.
“I think a lot of it has to do with just the fact that, and I often joke that, garbage is literally and figuratively the last thing on people’s minds. This is especially true among businesses because there’s usually just one or two people responsible for setting it out at the end of the night. Then they forget about it because it seems to mysteriously disappear once it’s collected,” said Van Eyck.
“Getting people to understand the importance of waste management to the city, as it impacts other issues like street cleanliness and rat mitigation, is essential. Furthermore, people are throwing away items that are valuable commodities and [those items] can be recycled. This not only requires education, but also requires individual behavior change and a culture shift.”
For residents of New York City, Van Eyck stresses that people need to remember that the recycling they do at home, they need to follow through day to day and hold businesses and their workplaces accountable. If someone is already doing their part by recycling at home, bring those values around the city and contribute.
“If you go to a restaurant, if you go to a store, and you have something you want to get rid of, you should be looking to put it in the correct bin,” said Van Eyck. “You should ask the establishment where its recycling is and hold that establishment accountable.”
“If you notice there’s an establishment that’s not recycling, that is something we will follow up on. I would just like to remind residents, in a friendly way, you’re already doing [recycling] at home. Don’t forget to do it outside as well.”
Like many other Waste360 40 Under 40 award winners, Van Eyck was surprised by the win, and didn’t see it coming. To his surprise, he remains humble and feels that his work is the real reward, even if he thinks that is very cliché to say, it’s true.
“I contained my excitement because I didn’t want to show off. A lot of my colleagues are familiar with Waste360,” said Van Eyck. “It’s a tremendous honor to be considered a part of this cohort and to have been recognized in such a way.”
Before we ended our conversation, I asked Van Eyck if he had anything else he wanted to share, as I do with many of my interviews. He took the opportunity to share how much he loves his work and how proud he is of his team.
“I’m really proud of the work we’re doing and couldn't ask for a more dedicated team. It’s a great honor and responsibility to be at the forefront of change having just come out of the pandemic and with climate change happening all around us. We’re really making strides to improve the city, its landscape, and the quality of life for New Yorkers,” said Van Eyck.
“I’m just really happy to be here, thankful for the opportunities, the great people I’ve worked with, and the great leadership I’ve had. I also want to shout out to my supportive wife and two little boys who help their dad make recycling fun at home. Thank you!"