Regulation Updates (NYC):
Q&A On New Organics, Waste And Recycling Rules – What Should Businesses Do?

Aug 2016.

NYC businesses should take note of new/updated rules covering organics, and waste and recycling:

  • New organics rules went into effect July 19, 2016.  See the official notice for details. Rules enforced Jan 2017.
  • New waste and recycling rules went into effect Aug 1, 2016. See the official notice for details. Rules enforced Aug 1, 2017.

What should NYC businesses know about theses new rules? What can they do to be in compliance and protect themselves from fines? We asked Richard Cook, Great Forest’s NYC team leader to weigh in:

Q: We have not made any changes. We didn’t even know there were new rules. Is our business in trouble? 

A:  Relax. Although the new rules are already in effect, the law is not currently being enforced.  As you can see from the timelines below, we are in a warning period. Fines will not be levied until 2017. That said, affected businesses should begin now to examine their existing waste and recycling programs, and make any changes needed to bring themselves into compliance. (Update July 2017: The new organics rule has been enforced since Jan 19, 2017. Fines are being issued. The updated waste and recycles rules will be enforced starting Aug 1, 2017) 

Timeline for new organics rules:

Organics timeline

Timeline for updated waste and recycling rules:

Recycling timeline 3

Q: What are the penalties?

A: For the organics law:
$250 first violation within a 12 month period
$500 second violation within a 12 month period
$1000 for third and each subsequent violation within a 12 month period

For the waste/recycling law:
$100 first violation within a 12 month period
$200 second violation within a 12 month period
$400 for third and each subsequent violation within a 12 month period

For persistent violators, each container or bag containing solid waste that has not been source separated or placed out for collection in accordance with the laws shall constitute a separate violation with no more than 20 violations being issued within a 24 hour period.

Q: What should businesses do to be in compliance?

A: First, take a look at the official notices (linked above) for both new rules to see if you are affected.  Then work with your building management or sustainability officer/consultant to devise a plan. The first things your plan should include is a waste audit and a compliance assessment.

  • Waste audit: A waste audit is key.  It helps you create a detailed map of your waste streams and your associated waste removal costs, and allows you to develop a baseline to track your waste and recycling.  The audit will also assess your current waste storage.
  • Compliance assessment:  This assessment of your current waste and recycling programs will provide you with a compliance scorecard so you know what you are missing. It should give you a list of recommended changes to bring your business into compliance as well as to improve efficiency.

Under the new rules, changes might need to be made in the way you collect, transport and process your waste and recycling, you may need to change haulers and register your plan with the City, and you will likely need new signage as well.

Q: What are the key differences of these new rules?

A: The organics law requires affected NYC businesses to properly deal with food waste. This includes sorting and processing organic waste by methods such as composting and aerobic/anaerobic digestion.

Under the new  waste and recycling rules, ALL commercial businesses must now separate ALL recyclables (cardboard and mixed paper, and glass/metal/plastic) from trash. Before, only food establishments had to separate cardboard and glass/metal/plastic from trash; while all other commercial businesses needed only separate cardboard and mixed paper. The new law eliminates that distinction between business types, requiring all businesses to follow the same procedures.

Another difference is that commercial recycling now accept rigid plastics (eg: coffee cup lids, plastic clam shells, etc.). NOTE: Still NOT accepted: Plastic film and plastic bags, which are covered under the plastic bag recycling law.

Q: What is the cost of getting into compliance?

This varies by size of program, the hauler, and the processor.  But in general, many businesses will find that recommended changes and costs will likely be minimal. New and optional costs might include the purchase of new bins if necessary, liners, signage, and educational materials. These cost may be offset by savings in waste removal costs.

For the organics law, the biggest ticket item might be the purchase of a food processor like an Orca machine, if that is the method the business chooses to adopt.  Of course there are other ways to deal with organics.  For example, composting can be surprisingly low cost to implement. In many cases, there is no need for new purchases. An organization’s existing waste bins can simply be repurposed or repositioned for use with a new composting program.

Q: Are there additional resources?

Check out Recycling For Businesses for more information on NYC’s recycling rules.  Or email:


Sign up for "3 to Zero (Waste)." Get 3 tips each month + insights.