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[GreenYes] FW: [GreenYes] NYC Recycling? related questions

I'm forwarding Amelia's question to the GreenYes listserve, as she intended.
Here is my response:

Dear Amelia,

Let me respond to each of your points

1. I think all the discussion on the listserve recently about
commercial collection has established one thing. Although it may rarely
happen that commercial recyclables are sent to landfills (usually in
circumstances in which markets are depressed or collection/transfer
operations in great disarray), in most cases it only seems that way to folks
outside the collection business. This is because of the wide range of
collection and post-collection sorting methods that exist.

2. This also applies to your point about sorting out paper from refuse
by office building maintenance staff. While it may not be the most
efficient method, it is certainly possible and done all the time. Coffee
spillage, etc. is not a make or break event if there is enough paper to sort
out. Of course, one would need to actually witness what was going on in a
particular building at any time; there may be abuses going on, but simply
being told that post-collection sorting is going on by building staff
doesn't mean there are. I would apply the same caveat to the observer as I
suggest above.

3. Regarding contaminants of residential paper and metal/glass/plastic
recycling collected by the Department of Sanitation: we have completed a
four season study of what is in the trash and the recycling in New York City
(see and it shows that 5% of paper loads and 20%
of MGP loads taken to recycling processors consist of the "wrong" thing (in
the case of MGP, the wrong thing could include yogurt containers or paper).
So it is certainly not the case that recycling is discarded as refuse if a
sanitation workers sees one minor mistake. If a clear bag seems obviously
full of trash, the worker may collect it as refuse, but this is a rarity.
Overall, our statistics show that the system is working as it should. The
vast majority of what is collected as recycling is what should be there; but
minor contamination isn't preventing major recycling from going in. And the
rates of contamination are no worse than seen in other dense cities.

4. There is no post-sorting of refuse collected by the Dept. of
Sanitation, ever. This is a question I get often. Refuse goes to a refuse
transfer station, and, if it contains recyclables, it is treated as refuse.
Our same study finds that about 20% of refuse consists of things that
shouldn't be recycled, which is pretty normal for municipalities.

I hope this answers your questions.


Samantha MacBride

Deputy Director, Recycling

Bureau of Waste Prevention, Reuse and Recycling

New York City Department of Sanitation

44 Beaver Street, 6th floor

New York, NY 10010


-----Original Message-----
From: Amelia Chiles [mailto:arc@no.address]
Sent: Thursday, May 04, 2006 11:43 AM
To: Karyn Kaplan
Cc: Wayne Turner; Stephen N Weisser; JW Spear; Samantha MacBride; David
Biddle; Christina Salvi
Subject: Re: [GreenYes] NYC Recycling? related questions

Apologies for appearing to single the seven of you out with this

message - I'm unable to actually post to Greenyes now although I

receive all the messages. As re-subscribing also didn't seem to work

yesterday, I just wanted to get my thoughts out while the topic was

still fresh.

Any insights are much appreciated.


I too have heard people say this, but about residential collections -

that they've been stuck behind trucks in traffic and have watched

them throw all bags - clear and black - into the same place. (The

question remains whether these trucks were compacting or not).

I've never witnessed that particular scenario, but what I -DO- see,

week after week, are countless numbers of clear bags of "recycling"

that most definitely contain non-recyclables. Yogurt cups are

popular things which the general public believes to be recycled

here. Another frequent sighting - paper and glass/metal/plastics in

the same clear bag. Is it possible that Sanitation workers throw

these bags away when they see obvious mistakes, instead of taking

them on to be recycled? Or will these garbage items get sorted out

later anyway?

I ask because I previously lived in a small town in VA where there

was never curb-side collection but a centralized location to bring

recyclables to and sort out on-site (a location that has become

increasingly harder to get in to as it closes at 4pm on the

weekdays!!!). More than one person would tell me how they will "just

throw the whole cart away" if they find even *one* misplaced item

within. Is this another myth, by chance? Perhaps a myth spread to

make people a little more diligent in their sorting....

On the topic of commercial recycling: When I first moved here

(2000), I took a variety of temporary job assignments for about two

months. During that period, I was placed at three different legal

firms.....which are, hands down, the biggest wasters of paper I've

seen. There were no recycling bins, and when I asked whether paper

was recycled, they said to just dump it in the garbage, "it gets

sorted through downstairs". But how much paper can honestly be

salvaged if people are dumping half empty coffee cups and food in the

same bin as this paper? From an outsider's perspective, this just

seems inefficient for an absorbent product like paper, but perhaps

this technique would work for cans and bottles.

Granted, my experiences were six years ago and procedures may have



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