New York City wants to cut waste by 90 percent

  • Recycled cans and other aluminum products are viewed at the Sims Municipal Recycling Facility on the Brooklyn waterfront in New York City. At left, a barge carries recyclable waste along the East River near Manhattan (Getty Images / Reuters)
    New York City wants to cut waste by 90 percent

    The nation's biggest city, New York is announcing the ambitious goal of reducing its waste output by 90 percent by 2030.

    The plan includes an overhaul of the city's recycling program. It includes incentives to reduce waste and tacit support for the City Council's plan to dramatically reduce the use of plastic shopping bags. It was announced by Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio. The announcement came on Earth Day, which was April 22.

    New York has about 8.5 million residents. It would be the largest city in the Western Hemisphere to adopt such a plan. Its aim is to reduce the amount of the city's waste by more than 3 million tons from its 2005 level of about 3.6 million tons.

    The waste reduction plan is part of an update to the project created by de Blasio's predecessor, Michael Bloomberg. De Blasio is keeping its components but rebranding it OneNYC.

    The average New Yorker throws out nearly 15 pounds of waste a week. That adds up to millions of tons a year, de Blasio said in a statement to The Associated Press. "To be a truly sustainable city, we need to tackle this challenge head on."

    For decades, the city's trash has been exported by rail or barge. It is sent to South Carolina, Virginia, New Jersey, Pennsylvania or upstate New York. The new plan would eliminate almost all of the garbage exports. They cost the city more than $350 million a year.

    The amount of waste produced by the city has fallen 14 percent since 2005. That is due to an increase in recycling. A key component of the plan is to bolster that output by simplifying the process.

    Currently, residential buildings have two types of recycling bins. The city's new single-stream plan would consolidate all recycling into one bin by 2020.

    Organics such as food scraps and yard waste make up 31 percent of the city's residential waste stream. A program to collect that material directly from residents' homes is being expanded. The goal is to reach nearly 200,000 residents by year's end. Officials want to serve every home in the city by the end of 2018. The city also will offer economic incentives to participate. The incentives could eventually include a property tax rebate for homeowners.

    The city also aims to reduce commercial waste by 90 percent by 2030. It would adopt a program similar to what is being used in residential buildings. That could also mean tax incentives for businesses that participate and fines for ones that don't.

    The de Blasio administration stopped short of endorsing a City Council bill that proposes a 10-cent fee on plastic bags. Officials said that reducing their use is a priority.

    The OneNYC presentation is meant to build on de Blasio's environmental record. That includes a ban on Styrofoam boxes. The goal is to reduce carbon emissions from city buildings by 80 percent by 2050.

    Environmental groups applauded the plan's wide-ranging scope.

    "We see cities all over the world struggling with waste," said Michael Berkowitz, president of 100 Resilient Cities. "A more efficient city is a more resilient city and that means it's a stronger city."

    Critical thinking challenge: What are some benefits and incentives that should result from this plan?  Are there any losers as a result of this plan? Who? Why?

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