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[GreenYes] News report on NYC MRF contract

As reported yesterday on WNYC – NYC public radio:

20-Year Deal May Prevent Recycling Cuts

Company wins contract to recycle metal, glass and plastic

by Amy Eddings

NEW YORK, NY December 18, 2008 —A long-awaited contract that allows Sims Metal Management to process and sell the city's metal, glass and plastic for the next 20 years is finally official, just as the city faces pressure to cut costs and Sims finds it more difficult to turn a profit on recyclables. WNYC's Amy Eddings has details of the deal, and why environmental advocates believe the contract will keep the mayor from a repeat of 2002, when he cut back the city's recycling program.

Last month, without any fanfare, the city comptroller's office officially registered a landmark recycling contract. The agreement, four years in the making, allows Sims Metal Management to process and sell the city's recycled metal, glass and plastic, and some of its paper, for the next 20 years. Why is this a big deal? Well, environmental advocates hope such a contract will keep Mayor Bloomberg from cutting recycling, like he did in 2002, during a budget crisis. Today, the city is facing similar economic problems, but there's a different tone at City Hall.

SKYLER: We're recycling...seltzer! [plop] Down the chute.

REPORTER: That's Deputy Mayor Ed Skyler. He says the Bloomberg Administration is committed to recycling, so much so that staff members only have blue recycling bins under their desks. If they want to dispose of something that isn't recyclable, they have to walk to the nearest garbage can.

SKYLER: And it is absolutely inconvenient, if you want to throw something out, but if you want to increase recycling, which we do, you have do these things, and we wanted to lead by example.

REPORTER: The recycling deal is just part of an ambitious solid waste management plan that also sets increased recycling goals, spreads the burden of waste processing to facilities in all five boroughs, and shifts garbage export from the current system of trucks to less-polluting barges and trains.

SKYLER: We think the legacy is gonna be an environmentally sustainable method, and fair method, for the city to dispose of its garbage and better re-use its recyclables.

REPORTER: Several key pieces of the plan fell into place this year. In Albany, lawmakers agreed to amend a state law so the city can build a recycling facility in Hudson River Park. The Bronx and Staten Island are now shipping out their trash by train, instead of truck. And then there's that long-term recycling contract with Sims Metal Management. Bob Kelman is the company's president.

KELMAN: I give a lot of credit to the administration for taking the long view, that this kind of inoculates the city from losing the program in a downturn in the budget cycle.

REPORTER: Under the deal, the city and Sims will split the cost of building a new, $100 million sorting facility in Brooklyn. Sims gets $67 a ton for processing city recyclables, roughly $16 million a year. And it will share its revenues with the city when the commodities markets are strong. It's too bad the contract wasn't in place last spring, when copper, paper and ferrous metal were trading at record highs. Now, prices have dropped through the floor. Sims estimates the value of a ton of the city's metal, glass and plastic is now $74. In August, it was $183 a ton. Even with such a catastrophic collapse, Kelman says Sims is ready to invest in the new recycling facility.

KELMAN: What's happened over the past four months shows why you don't do short term deals when you need to build capital infrastructure for a contract. Over the course of the long term we will be able to, we believe, ride through these cycles, the highs and the lows. Yes, though, in the short term, it's a very difficult climate for everyone, but it's one we're not daunted by.

REPORTER: It's certainly a daunting climate for the city. The contract adds nearly $1 million to the current budget, at a time when agencies are being told to slash spending. The Sanitation Department has proposed $25 million in cuts to this budget, and $67 million in the next, and one victim of the budget axe is recycling education and outreach. That means no more flyers in the mail, reminding you what to recycle. Eric Goldstein, senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, doesn't like it, but he thinks it's the lesser of two evils.

GOLDSTEIN: People recognize that in these tough economic times that every program will be taking hits. What's critical and what we are hopeful won't happen, is that the core recycling program, the weekly collection, won't be touched.

REPORTER: The city isn't making any promises. Next week, agencies will submit plans to cut another seven percent from their 2010 budgets. In a statement, mayoral spokesman Jason Post said, in the long-term, the contract "reaffirms an important commitment" to recycling. But in the near-term, he said, the economic slowdown means everything's on the table, including changes to the curbside recycling collection program. Bob Kelman, with Sims Metal Management, says he hasn't heard any talk of that happening. Neither has NRDC's Eric Goldstein, who believes Mayor Bloomberg has turned a philosophical corner since those recycling cuts in 2002.

GOLDSTEIN: The mayor, with the City Council, has taken a mundane issue, how we handle our trash, and turned it into one of his municipal priorities. We're far from having solved the problem, but we're certainly farther along than we were six or seven years ago.

Some New Yorkers who live near garbage transfer stations would disagree. They think the mayor's solid waste management plan isn't living up to a promise to close private facilities in their overburdened neighborhoods. We'll hear from them tomorrow on All Things Considered.



Kendall Christiansen

Gaia Strategies

151 Maple Street

Brooklyn, NY 11225

o: 718.941.9535; cell: 917.359.0725


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