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It's About Time New York Solved Its Trash Problem

The city produces a massive amount of waste, none of which is managed very efficiently.

Flickr/John Fraissinet

On Wednesday, which was also Earth Day, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a vision to overhaul the city's garbage disposal and recycling program as a part of his 10-year "OneNYC" plan. He has two big goals: to reduce commercial waste disposal 90 percent by 2030, and to minimize the waste generated and sent out to far-away landfills. Given the city's visible garbage problem, this plan is long overdue.

New York City trash bags often pile up on the sidewalk, their contents strewn out onto the streets. The sheer volume of trash is enormous. According to the Guardian, the city has a "throwaway culture"—generating 50,000 tons of residential and commercial waste a day.

Of the residential waste, the city only recycles 15 percent, the New York Times reports. As for commercial waste, a recent report by Transform Don't Trash NYC says the city generates 5.5 million tons annually, out of which only about 25 percent is recycled. This is much lower than the 40 percent recycling rate mentioned in former Mayor Bloomberg's PlaNYC, the report points out.

Here's what the Transform Don't Trash NYC report says about state of commercial garbage in the city:

New York City's sprawling commercial waste system performs significantly worse on recycling and efficiency than previously believed. Under an inefficient and ad-hoc arrangement that developed over the past several decades, hundreds of private hauling companies collect waste from restaurants, stores, offices, and other businesses nightly and truck it to dozens of transfer stations and recycling facilities concentrated in a handful of low-income communities of color. This waste is then transferred to long-haul trucks and hauled to landfills as far away as South Carolina.

Through his plan, De Blasio hopes to change this situation; via CNN:

"The whole notion of a society based on constantly increasing waste and putting it on a train or a barge sending it someplace else and putting it in the ground is outrageous," de Blasio said at a press conference on Earth Day. "And it's outdated, and we're not going to be a part of it."

His plan includes implementing single-stream recycling to make it easier for everyone, expanding the city's composting program to every home by 2018, restricting the sale of non-recyclable and non-compostable items, and offering tax incentives to businesses who comply with his waste-reduction goals.

Other cities like San Francisco and Seattle have already achieved some success in similar waste reduction plans. It's about time New York cleaned up its mess.

About the Author

  • Tanvi Misra
    Tanvi Misra is a staff writer for CityLab covering demographics, inequality, and urban culture. She previously contributed to NPR's Code Switch blog and BBC's online news magazine.