NEW YORK TIMES - May 28, 2008, 12:22 pm
Contends That Recycling Is Not So Wasteful
New Yorker who wants to save the earth knows that it makes more sense to
recycle newspapers and tin cans than to chuck them in the trash. But for at
least the last five years there has been debate whether recycling in the city
actually makes economic sense, or whether it costs more to recycle than to
simply haul everything to a landfill.
debate will heat up again later today when the Natural
Resources Defense Council, an environmental organization with offices in
the city, releases a study on recycling costs. The detailed report by DSM Environmental, an independent
consulting company based in Vermont, shows that it still costs slightly more to
recycle but the difference is narrowing and that within five years, recycling
will more than pay for itself.
to the report, which the Department of
Sanitation helped put together, it costs $284 a ton to recycle, while it
costs $267 a ton for curbside trash. The $17-per-ton difference comes to about
6 percent, and is significantly less than it had been a few years ago. When the
Independent Budget Office looked at recycling costs in 2004, it found that it
cost anywhere from $34 to $48 a ton more to recycle than to send garbage to
is proof positive that recycling is cost competitive with other waste-disposal
methods, to say nothing of cutting the city’s contribution to global
warming,” said Eric A. Goldstein, a senior lawyer with the defense
recycling programs provide the same environmental benefit as taking roughly
338,000 passenger cars off the road each year, according to the report.
Department officials have long argued that recycling does not necessarily pay
for itself. During a fiscal crisis in 2002, the apparent cost premium for
recycling led Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg to decide to cut back recycling
program and reduce the frequency of pickups.
later, the administration reversed itself and restarted glass recycling and
resumed a weekly recycling schedule citywide.
on-again, off-again nature of the program hurt recycling efforts in the city
because it confused residents, Mr. Goldstein said. Recycling rates dropped
sharply from the 20 percent of the waste stream that was collected before the
disruption. Recycling rates have recovered somewhat since the full collection
program was restored, but they remain lower at just under 17 percent, he said.
found that the biggest factor in the higher recycling costs is that sanitation
crews usually pick up more material per truck when they are collecting garbage
than when they go out for recyclables.
Turso, a deputy commissioner at the Department of Sanitation, said that a
work crew can fill a garbage truck with 10 to 12 tons of trash during one seven
hour shift, and have time enough to bring the load to a transfer station. But
the same crew on recycling duty will only pick up about three tons of material
in a dual bin recycling truck (or six tons in a large garbage truck) because
residents are simply not putting out at the curb everything that can be
are plenty of other things on the metal, plastic and glass side that can be
recycled, and if people were more ambitious about recycling those materials,
there would be less in waste stream,” Mr. Turso said.
study, like studies before it, is likely to generate its own debate. It seems
that there are several different ways to calculate the cost of doing something
as simple as picking up trash or recyclables. The Sanitation Department
traditionally includes a range of services — including plowing and snow
removal — in its cost calculations, arguing that the same equipment and
crews have to be used in several different ways. Recycling advocates say that
this skews the numbers in a way that puts recycling at a disadvantage.
department also does not break out the added cost of special recycling programs
for appliances, which is more expensive because Freon and other dangerous
materials have to be removed before the metal can be recycled.
has a new plan to collect and ship out solid waste that will rely more on
barges and marine transfer stations in the boroughs. According to the report,
the city has signed some long-term contracts providing access to out-of-state
landfills. And as costs for getting rid of trash rise and the price of recycled
material increases, recycling will make more sense.