Preview: Zero Waste NYC

Each day, 12,000 tons of trash disappears from NYC’s residential curbs. Expected to reach a population of nearly 9 million, can New York send zero waste to landfills by 2030? Ahead of next week’s panel discussion featuring the NYC Department of Sanitation, the GBCI Zero Waste team, and the Durst Organization, moderator Amy Marpman of Recycle Track Systems gave us some background on waste in NYC.

How does NYC compare to other cities in terms of waste management? How far are we from reaching zero waste?

Waste management is a big challenge for any city, and NYC has its own obstacles to overcome in working towards the ambitious goal of zero waste by 2030. NYC's diversion rate is about 19%. The nationwide average is 34%. While we have a long way to go, there are a lot of initiatives underway geared toward improving these numbers through a combination of waste reduction, reuse, recycling and other programs for both residents and businesses across the city.

What are the key differences between recycling solutions for commercial buildings versus schools, hospitals, and supermarkets?

Each sector operates differently, which affects what type of waste is generated and how it is managed internally. For example, solutions to reduce waste at an elementary school will be different than what works for a hospital. An elementary school's waste is generated primarily by classroom and administrative activities, with breakfast and lunch food service during a weekday operation. Capturing paper for recycling and targeting food waste from cafeterias are usually the first focus for schools. A hospital's waste comes from various patient care settings, laboratories, and food service—along with additional waste stream types such as regulated medical waste and pharmaceutical waste—in a facility that must operate 24/7. A solution for an office setting or school, such as replacing disposable items with reusable items, is not an easy switch given the risk for spread of infection and other health-related factors that must be taken into consideration.

However, there are best practices within each sector, and ensuring these examples and success stories are shared is helpful. One challenge facing any sector with on-site recycling programs is individual participation—getting people to put the right things in the right bin.

What excites you most as a recycling industry professional in envisioning a zero waste NYC?

Envisioning zero waste NYC is exciting as we're seeing a lot of different sectors come together to try and reach a common goal. There are new ideas and innovative technologies being generated and new partnerships formed that we haven't seen before. Each will have an impact that when combined will help move the city towards the zero waste goal.

What is something that most New Yorkers don’t know about waste management or recycling in the city?

A lot of New Yorkers don't realize the amount of small-scale and community-based efforts there are out there to re-use and recover materials before they get into the waste stream. There are things like community garden compost drop-off sites, clothing swaps, re-use and repair pop-up shops and other resources that New Yorkers can utilize to reduce the amount of waste they send to the curb. Individuals looking to cut down waste should visit the DSNY website for more resources.

Learn more and be part of the conversation on February 7 at Fisher & Paykel.


About the author

Urban Green Council
Dedicated to transforming buildings for a sustainable future.