Recycling Roundtable,  late November, 2002

New York City


Draft Conclusions


1.  Recycling shapes successful integrated waste management systems.


The Cities participating in the roundtable all noted that their waste management systems were designed around the recycling services.  That is, the first consideration is the design of an efficient recycling system and the remainder of the system is designed to accommodate that principle factor. 


In NYC, with a true residential recycling rate below 15%, this would appear wishful and theoretical.  For cities that currently exceed a 50% recovery rate and/or are shooting for 70% or even zero waste, it has been a fundamental principal and become a practical and political reality.  If NYC is to reduce its dependence on garbage export, this shift of mindset is critical.


2.  Collection represents the biggest cost factor; recycling collection is a small part of that.


Upwards of 50 percent of the average municipality’s solid waste budget represents collection costs.  The greatest gains in collection efficiencies come through evaluation of the entire system and focus on things like fleet maintenance, routing, and crew productivity and size.  Comparison of NYC’s costs to those of other cities clearly indicates room for efficiency gains. 


Many cities, particularly on the west coast, have achieved significant reductions in recycling collection costs by implementing “single stream” recycling programs that collect containers and paper in the same truck.  With some reservations, many participants suggested that NYC evaluate this option, at least in some parts of the City[1].  The reservations primarily relate to the impact of single stream collection on the quality and marketability of paper and the higher residue rates associated with single stream, as opposed to dual stream systems.  However, many participants noted that new single stream processing technology can address those concerns.  Most critical was the notion that the collection and processing systems must be developed in an integrated manner to ensure maximum performance and efficiency.


3.  An efficient recycling system must be a partnership between the public and private sectors.


Many participants related that the most efficient and cost effective systems result not from a fee-for-service approach to processing and marketing, but rather a more collaborative relationship between the municipality and the processor.  For example, the cities most successful in attracting private investment in processing capacity have offered long-term (10 year) contracts with risk and revenue sharing provisions, city-owned property, marketing assistance for problem materials (e.g., glass) and assistance in siting and permitting.  With the exception of glass, materials industry representatives noted that markets are open, available and eager to accept NYC material.


4.  One size does not fit all, especially in a city as large and diverse as NYC.


The diversity of the City and its neighborhoods makes it virtually impossible to have one system that works efficiently in all settings.  DSNY has recognized this to some extent, particularly in its variations in collection frequencies and its use of dual bin trucks in 21 of the city’s 59 sanitation districts due to the lower density of housing in those areas.  Participants suggested that in order to create an efficient system, DSNY should look at even more diversity in program implementation.  Issues of equity were discussed and most agreed that as long as equivalent service was provided, equal service was unnecessary. 


For example, many cities have different approaches to multi-family and single family programs.  Some supplement with buy-back systems in lower-income, lower-performing districts.  There are other variations between boroughs or districts that could dramatically improve the efficiency of the system.  Differences in neighborhood generation rates and storage capacities may dictate different collection frequency for recyclables and garbage.  Semi-automated collection may work in lower density boroughs, opening the possibility of a reduced collection crew size. With adequate processing capacity and collection efficiency, single stream collection may generate the greatest savings.


5.  Long term contracts are critical for the necessary investment in processing infrastructure.


Just as a 15 year paper contract with Visy lead to $150 million investment in the Staten Island

paper mill, long term supply contracts are needed to facilitate the private sector’s investment in the newest, most efficient processing technologies for mixed curbside recyclables.  To date, contracts for metal, glass and plastic processing have been short-term, with no guarantee of tonnage and unilateral cancellation clauses.  As a result, NYC has had sub-standard processing facilities using antiquated sorting technology.


6.  Education is critical


Throughout the roundtable participants kept coming back to the importance of a strong yet simple education program to improve performance.  In particular, using the collection force as an educational force (by enabling them to leave non-recyclables on the curb), and practicing educational enforcement (by providing warnings first with specific instruction as to what was not acceptable) were promoted as good alternatives to DSNY’s current purely punitive approach.


7.  Implementing Pay As You Throw can stabilize the recycling system


In more than 4000?? communities nationwide, volume based pricing for waste services not only generates revenue to finance recycling and solid waste management, it also provides individuals and families with an incentive to reduce waste generation.  Experiences show that waste generation has dropped by an average of 14? percent when PAYT systems were implemented.  While challenges to implementation of PAYT certainly exist in NYC, participants suggested that the City evaluate its options, including phasing in PAYT systems beginning in single family areas while pilot testing multi-family approaches.  Participants insisted that PAYT be seen as moving garbage to a utility structure, not unlike water metering, and ensure that the revenues generated are dedicated to the solid waste and recycling system.  A dedicated funding system would insulate the recycling program from the vaguaries of the city budget, much like DEP water rates have all but exempted that agency from the budget ax.


7.  More specific recommendations are not possible without more data


Many Roundtable participants noted that it was difficult, if not impossible, to make specific recommendations on potential efficiencies or cost savings without harder numbers than those that have been made available by DSNY to date.


[1] Special consideration must be made to NYC’s contract with the Visy paper mill on Staten Island which currently receives unprocessed paper from Manhattan, via barge, and Staten Island, via truck.