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[greenyes] NYC's Waste Composition Study

FYI...this report was broadcast on Tuesday, April 5th on WNYC (New York
City's NPR affiliate); audio and transcript available at

> We Are What We Throw Away
> City Does Waste Composition Study
> by Amy Eddings
> NEW YORK, NY, April 05, 2005 - At a city facility in Queens, thirty
> people are on a fact-finding mission for the Sanitation Department.
> They're here to figure out what New Yorkers get rid of and why.
> BARRY BREWER: Lot of paper. Lot of plastic. Styrofoam. Lot of food. We
> get a lot of animal waste. And a few other things.
> Barry Brewer's one of a team of six guys who stand around a large
> wooden table, heaped with garbage. They look like surgeons, dressed in
> white jumpsuits, rubber gloves, goggles and paper masks. Tom Jones is
> the project manager. He works for R.W. Beck, the consultant doing the
> study for the sanitation department.
> TOM JONES: The reason it's so important is that the city spends so
> much money disposing of its trash, and if there's anything here that
> they don't have to, that would be extremely useful to know.
> At a council hearing last week, a city economic development official
> said the city pays 277 million dollars a year to have its garbage
> trucked to landfills. And that cost is likely to increase, as recent
> bids for some contracts showed an average fee hike of 24 percent.
> Mayor Bloomberg's long-term plan to containerize the waste, and barge
> or rail it out of town, could raise costs too, to 407 million a year.
> So there's a financial incentive to recycle more. And that's why the
> city's studying its garbage. Barry Brewer and his team are sorting
> their table of trash into 91 different categories.
> BREWER: I'm the paper man. Some other guys are plastic man. Some other
> guys are metal man. Some guys are other things. Organic, waste
> material, doggie stuff, cat stuff. You know. EDDINGS: So the guys up
> on the other end of the table will throw their paper down to you?
> BREWER: Sure, they'll throw paper to me. I'll throw metal, whatever,
> I'll throw plastics, it's a system.
> This is the second time the city has taken a close look at what New
> Yorkers throw away. The first waste characterization study was done in
> 1989. Since then, garbage has changed, and this is reflected in the
> current study, which will weigh, and in some cases, COUNT, items like
> disposable razors, cell phones, computers, and single serving beverage
> containers. It will analyze the city's garbage and recycling streams
> by neighborhood density and income, so sanitation officials can see
> where recycling rates are low, and figure out what to do about it. And
> it also looks at what's being put in corner street baskets. Tanya
> Tarnickee, who's helping with the study, says that's where New York's
> trash is unique....and anyone who's tried to hide a renovation project
> from their landlord will know why.
> TARNICKEE: In some of the street basket samples we've seen
> construction and demolition debris. Concrete bricks. Rocks, huge
> things you wouldn't expect pedestrians to walk around with in their
> pockets. Other than that, it's pretty much standard fare. It's
> garbage.
> This study won't be ready until next year, but a preliminary one was
> done last spring. And sanitation officials are surprised by some of
> the findings. For one thing, there are ten percent fewer potential
> recyclables in the trash than was estimated in 1989. And that means
> New Yorkers are better recyclers than officials had thought, putting
> 51 percent of their metal, glass, plastic and paper in the recycling
> bin. In 1989, this "capture rate" was estimated at 40 percent.
> There's also less glass in the recycling stream, and more
> plastic....11 percent, compared to six percent in 1989.
> SAMANTHA MACBRIDE: It just confirms what one can observe anecdotally
> and also data on product changes..
> Samantha MacBride is a senior policy analyst with the Sanitation
> Department.
> MACBRIDE: Although we have a few more Snapple ice teas that come in
> glass containers, what we really have a lot more of are individual
> plastic drink bottles that people carry with them and are constantly
> consuming and throwing away.
> Another surprise: people are doing a better job recycling metal, glass
> and plastic than they are paper....even though glass and plastic
> recycling was temporarily suspended because of the 2002 fiscal crisis.
> And while electronics are a big part of our 21st century lives, they
> make up .9 percent of our garbage. New Yorkers are more likely to shed
> their clothes and shoes. In Queens, as workers drag their sorting bins
> to a scale to be weighed, MacBride points to one of the buckets.
> EDDINGS: What's going on there? MACBRIDE: Textiles. Look at that.
> EDDINGS: Wow. That's a whole big blue bin filled with clothing.
> MACBRIDE: And that's not unusual to see.
> Textiles make up nearly seven percent of our waste stream, or
> 243-thousand tons a year. MacBride calls that a "sizeable chunk."
> What will be done with this information, once it's collected, is up in
> the air. Hugo Neu Schnitzer East, the company that's planning to take
> all the city's metal, glass and plastic, says if the amount of glass
> continues to drop, it may think twice about investing in high-tech
> processing equipment that improves its value. The city council may
> change the recycling program to capture more plastics...types that
> currently aren't included, like salad bar containers and plastic wrap.
> And the sanitation department might start a recycling program for old
> clothing. At market prices of $125 a ton, the city's recycling
> director says it shouldn't be going to waste.
> Kendall Christiansen
> Vice President
> Geto & de Milly, Inc.
> 130 East 40th Street - 16th floor
> New York, NY 10016
> 212.686.4551 ext. 17; cell: 917.359.0725

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