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Another 9/11 NY City Casualty: Recycling

by Cat Lazaroff

No glass bottles and jars recycling for the next two years
(ENS) NEW YORK -- Starting July 1, New York City -- the largest city in the United States -- will no longer recycle residential glass or plastic wastes. Mayor Michael Bloomberg has cut the money losing recycling program, saying the city can no longer afford the program in the wake of the deadly and costly September 11 terrorist attacks.

Collection of plastics and beverage containers has been suspended until at least June 30, 2003, and the collection of recyclable glass has been suspended until June 30, 2004. The city's curbside recycling program will now collect only paper and metal recyclables.

"The city was faced with some very difficult budget decisions and we worked with the City Council to temporarily modify our recycling program," Bloomberg said last week.

"These changes were made with great difficulty. We all want recycling to work. But the more labor intensive and less efficient recycling of glass and plastic items for which there are not current markets is not cost effective," Bloomberg added. "Therefore the city is discontinuing the program temporarily until we can create an effective and efficient system for recycling glass and plastic."

Bloomberg said suspending glass and plastics recycling will save the city an estimated $40 million, helping to close an estimated $5 billion budget shortfall in the wake of the September 11 attacks. It costs the city about $65 a ton to dispose of garbage in landfills, Bloomberg said, while transporting glass and plastics to sorting centers costs about $110 a ton.

The city is forming a task force that will look at ways to make recycling more cost effective, including looking for and developing new markets for recyclable materials. Only about half of the recyclable materials now collected are recycled into new products, Bloomberg noted, because there are not enough buyers for the tons of recyclable wastes the city produces each day.

"This administration is strongly in favor of preserving the environment through recycling programs," Bloomberg said. "Ultimately, New York city's recycling program will be improved so as to achieve the vital environmental objectives it was intended to in the most efficient and cost effective way."

Although the city originally warned that recycling bags containing anything other than recyclable metals would be left on the curb, that policy was amended after criticism from the public and members of the city council.

"If the crews see that there is contamination, other materials, in that bag or can, they're going to leave it there," John Doherty, the city's sanitation commissioner, said at a news conference on Thursday. "We're not going to pick it up."

But during his weekly radio address on Friday, Bloomberg told city residents to "just put out your paper and your metal, and we'll be happy to cart it away."

A call to the mayor's office revealed that during the first week of the new plan, the city will not pick up mixed recyclables. But starting next week, sanitation trucks will pick up all mixed recyclables for sale to metal recyclers, even though contamination with glass and plastic could make the metal unusable.

"The recycling program is an integral component of the City's overall plan to effectively handle its municipal solid waste," said Doherty. "I know that all New Yorkers will pitch in to make the revised program work."

Supporters of the recycling suspension argue that many plastic and glass beverage containers will still be recycled, because they carry a five cent deposit and can be redeemed at many locations within the city.

But critics warn that many households do not bother to redeem these containers, which will now be mixed in with regular household trash. Scavengers that previously searched recycling bags for redeemable containers may now rip into garbage bags in search of the five cent treasures, scattering trash on city streets.

"Potentially, it is a problem," Mayor Bloomberg said last week.

The city will continue to recycle all paper products, including newspapers, magazines, mail, cardboard, paper bags and soft cover books. Eligible metal recyclables include cans, aluminum foil wraps and trays, household metal objects such as wire hangers, pots and pans and irons, metal pipes, and other items made substantially from metal.

"In the case of plastic and glass, the fact of the matter was that it was phenomenally expensive and most of it ended up being dumped in a landfill anyway," Bloomberg said. "The paper recycling has worked for a long time and we believe that the metal recycling will certainly pay for itself."

Reducing the amount of garbage the city recycles will add to New York's growing solid waste disposal problem. Since the closure last year of the Fresh Kills landfill on Staten Island, the city has been paying to export its trash to landfills and incinerators in other states, at a cost of about $36.6 million a year.

Truckloads of debris from the World Trade Center collapse have been shipped to a temporarily reopened Fresh Kills over the past nine months, but the landfill remains closed to more mundane garbage.

Last week, the "New York Times" quoted commissioner Doherty as suggesting that New York City's garbage could be shipped to a "willing Caribbean nation."

"It's concepts people are talking about," Doherty told the "Times." "Could we find an island and do something?"

Today, an international coalition of environmental groups vowed to block the export of New York City trash to the Caribbean.

"Environmental Justice activists throughout NYC will stand firmly with our brothers and sisters in the Caribbean to oppose environmentally inequitable and unsustainable practices," said Timothy Logan, solid waste coordinator for New York City's Environmental Justice Alliance. "We continue to pressure our own elected officials to embrace waste prevention, composting and recycling as the answer to reducing the impacts of our waste."

Organizations around the United States and the Caribbean began mobilizing against the project as soon as the announcement was made.

"The countries of the Caribbean will not take kindly to garbage imperialism from the Big Apple," said Aldrin Calixte with COHPEDA in Haiti.

COHPEDA waged a decade long campaign to demand the removal of Philadelphia's incinerator ash dumped on a Haitian beach in the late 1980s. That ash is being returned to Pennsylvania this week after 15 years.

"We must join forces against this plan to prevent the giants of this planet who continue to undermine the environmental space of others," Calixte said.

"Sending waste abroad will come back to haunt anyone who tries it," added Kenny Bruno, campaigns coordinator for EarthRights International.

© 2002 Environment News Service and reprinted with permission

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