Testimony at Sanitation Committee Hearing on Recycling

By Dr. Marjorie J. Clarke, Vice Chair (mclarke@hunter.cuny.edu)

NYC Waste Prevention Coalition (www.whywastenyc.org)

April 2, 2003

I am Dr. Marjorie Clarke, Vice Chair of the NYC Waste Prevention Coalition. Thank you very much for having this hearing, dedicated to recycling issues. We continue to be convinced that there are many ways to make recycling, composting and waste prevention as or more economic than disposal and export. Many of these methods were described in detail by city officials who came to the Recycling Roundtable last fall Ė if only the City would adapt these for New York.

Pay as you Throw

A case in point is Pay as you Throw. The Joint Task Force has recommended the City "examine the feasibility of a PAYT system of charges for refuse to encourage maximum recycling". We are very pleased that this concept made it into the recommendations. Over five thousand cities and towns bill for garbage services according to volume, a few states (e.g., Minnesota) require PAYT pricing strategies, and EPA has been pushing hard for this, hosting a "PAYT in Urban Areas" Workshop here in 2000. However, this concept has been presented all wrong and it gets further misinterpreted in the press.

First: PAYT Does Not have to be characterized as "a system of charges", since it could just as well be a system of incentives. Donít say that it is a tax, because it doesnít have to be structured that way. PAYT Does Not have to be superimposed upon the existing tax-based collections for waste management. If the goal is to reduce waste generation and increase recycling, as it should be, then PAYT should be structured such that those who throw out less than an average end up paying less than they do now through taxes. Those who throw out more, pay more. New Yorkers MUST understand that this is a fair system and not a tax. They must understand they will receive a tax credit equal to the amount that they pay now for garbage services Prior to the fee structure based on volume or weight discarded. Only then will PAYT be appreciated as the equitable billing system that it is, replacing the current unfair system, where wastrels are encouraged to waste more since there is no economic incentive not to. No one today would stand for such an unfair billing system for electricity or phone service as we have for garbage.

Second: Donít just "examine" the "feasibility" of PAYT. The City has said it has done this before; it writes a secret report, puts it on the shelf, and it gets us nowhere. The ONLY way we are going to press forward with this concept is to undertake a series of iterative pilots to identify problem areas, retool and retest in a pilot, and finally resolve problem areas encountered in different parts of the City. The Waste Prevention Coalition presented a six-step program for implementing PAYT here in its 2000 Plan.

Third: Yes, PAYT has been shown to be the single largest factor in motivating people to increase recycling Ė increasing recyclingís share of the pie by an average of 6%. But it also reduces waste generation by that amount and increases diversion for composting by about that much. How much would it be worth for the City to be able to prevent the export of 18% of the waste stream?

Implementing PAYT

The general outline of our six-step plan is Still as follows:

Determine the average cost for garbage and recycling services per household.  Show this figure as a line item on the real estate bills of home and building owners, with an educational campaign, to show people how much we have been paying for garbage services all along. 

Research ways that other cities have successfully instituted PAYT (a) where no separate charges had been made for garbage in the past; and (b) where there are apartment buildings. The Roundtable gave us a start.

Perform a pilot test of a PAYT system in the outer boroughs with single- and two-family homes to optimize a program in those areas. Iterate that pilot, correcting problem areas, until it works.

Institute PAYT in low-density areas of the City with a vigorous, ongoing, multi-pronged and targeted educational campaign to show people how and WHY to prevent and recycle to reduce their bill.

Learning from the pilots in the outer boroughs, undertake Iterative pilot tests of PAYT in multi-family dwellings.  Try out different bag, tag, and can / subscription systems; vary the cost/benefit, experiment with improving and targeting educational materials, etc.

Institute PAYT in high-density areas of the City with a vigorous, ongoing, multi-pronged and targeted educational campaign to show people how and WHY to prevent and recycle to reduce their bill.

Waste Free NYC

The Waste Prevention Coalition has championed the community coordinator program as a means of conducting innovative pilots to reduce our exports while keeping resources and jobs here in NYC. Despite of all the delays in starting, the Waste Free NYC programs have started to rack up savings in tonnage (export) and increases in jobs, in just their first few months of operation. Please work hard to keep funding for these pilots in the budget. The Administration Promised the City Council that it would fund this program at a $6 million level in the November, 2000 memorandum that was tied to the Councilís approval of the Solid Waste Management Plan update. Please hold them to their promise. In the long run, this will not be money down a rat hole (as are the huge windfalls squandered to the multi-national conglomerate waste companies for exporting our waste to their landfills). These pilot programs will eventually start paying back the investment in value-added products produced here, new businesses, tax revenues, and jobs.


Intro 29

In order to help recycling get back on its feet, it is essential that the City become a major market for the recyclable commodities that we produce, particularly glass and plastic. Local Law 19 of 1989 required the City to offer a price preference for recycled paper, and as a result of increasing the market, that paper has become more available and its price has dropped roughly to the level of virgin paper from trees. Why canít we use our glass for the myriad of proven uses for mixed crushed cullet (e.g., engineering, construction, cement, sandblasting, just to name a few). Why canít we buy our own recycled plastic rather than virgin plastic from oil? We have made a number of additional recommendations for improving Intro 29, and we hope that the Committee will prioritize environmental procurement as the powerful tool that it is for improving recycling and prevention, and move it towards passage this year.

Bottle Law, Composting

In addition to these three areas of focus, above, the NYC Waste Prevention Coalition would like to see the City actively endorse and lobby hard this year for an expanded bottle law, not only to include more beverage containers and reclaiming the unredeemed deposits for use in our recycling programs, but we also want the deposit to be increased to ten cents (inflation has decreased the value of the deposit by two-thirds since the early 1980s). Composting of food and yard waste should also be a priority since this organic material comprises one-fifth of our waste stream, and it is a valuable resource that should be used here, and not exported for landfill or incineration. Technology is available; we just need the pilots.